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7 Interesting Things About Our Solar System

by Dani Johnson

April 19, 2013

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Donate The Solar System is a fascinating place, but it's easy to be overwhelmed by its gargantuan size and the massive amount of data we have on everything we can gather data from. I have compiled a list of 7 things that I have found particularly interesting about our celestial neighborhood.

This representation is intentionally fanciful, as the planets are depicted far closer together than they are in reality. Similarly, the bodies' relative sizes are inaccurate. This is done for the purpose of being able to depict the solar system and still represent the bodies with some detail. (Otherwise the sun would be a mere speck, and the planets -- even the majestic Jupiter -- would be far too small to be seen.)

Credit: Nasa/JPL

1. Almost everything orbits the Sun in the same direction.

Most of the objects in the Solar System orbit the Sun in the same counter-clockwise direction (sometimes referred to as prograde motion), exceptions being many comets. The comets are thought to have originated in the Oort Cloud and scientists still are not sure exactly what caused their orbit to change. This motion is consistent with what we know about how solar systems are formed inside of the solar nebula that once swirled around our very own Sun.

2. Almost everything orbiting the Sun rotates in the same direction.

Most planets, and most of their satellites, rotate in the same (prograde) direction, exceptions being Venus and Uranus. The backward (retrograde) rotation of the rebellious planets is probably caused by a direct hit by a planet-sized object in the Solar System's distant past.

3. Uranus orbits the Sun while rotating on its side.

Uranus is the only planet to orbit the Sun while rotating almost completely on its side. The same collision that caused Uranus' retrograde rotation also caused its bizarre tilt, causing it to appear as if it were rolling on its side while orbiting the Sun. This odd orientation causes each of the planet's poles to be bathed in a frigid, icy winter while the other side faces almost directly at the Sun for ¼ of its 84 Earth-year orbit, giving Uranus unique weather patterns. Venus is also thought to have had a collision with a planet-sized body that caused it to reverse its spin.

4. Things aren't as close together in space as movies make it out to be.

It is true that the asteroid belt is cluttered compared to surrounding regions of the Solar System, if you were to travel through it in a space ship you wouldn't be barraged by rocks of various sizes, despite what you see in the movies. The objects are so far apart that, if traveling in a space ship, you would have to go out of your way and specifically guide your space ship to go directly to an asteroid to even photograph it.

5. We have 5 known dwarf planets in our Solar System: Ceres, Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea.

A planet is a celestial body that orbits our Sun and has a big enough mass to have a round shape and to have cleared its orbital path. A dwarf planet is, as the name implies, a much smaller celestial body that also orbits our Sun and has a big enough mass to have a round shape. The main difference between a dwarf planet and a standard planet is that dwarf planets are so small that they aren't able to push other objects out of their orbital path. Members of the IAU (the people in charge of naming celestial objects) have noted Pluto's importance and have designated the dwarf planets that are beyond the orbit of Neptune as Plutoids. Ceres is the only known dwarf planet that is not a Pludoid because it is located in the Asteroid Belt.

6. Apparently, the Earth isn't the only planet with a liquid ocean in our Solar System.

Jupiter's moon, Europa, is thought to have a global ocean at least 100 kilometers beneath its icy surface. There is even evidence that Europa's oceans may contain magnesium chloride which is a salt that is also found in Earth's oceans. If this turns out to be the case, it would definitely make Europa the next place to check for evidence of life elsewhere in our Solar System.

7. Although it may look like it's on fire, the Sun isn't actually burning.

The conditions inside the Sun are so extreme that it allows Nuclear Fusion to occur at the core. The process is much more complex than this explanation, but basically the hydrogen atoms inside the core of the Sun are excited and move around at such high speeds that when they collide with other hydrogen atoms it creates helium atoms. Since the helium atoms have less mass than the hydrogen atoms that made them the excess energy is given off as various forms of light.

Extra Content: Ever wonder what it's like to live in near-Earth orbit?

Check out this cool video by Chris Hadfield, an astronaut living on our International Space Station. "The space crying demo is only one of the latest installments in Hadfield's all encompassing series of videos about life in orbit. Chris Hadfield is one of six residents currently aboard International Space Station. He is the first Canadian commander of the station and is joined by two NASA astronauts and three Russian cosmonauts to complete the station's Expedition 35 crew." Mentions Miriam Kramer in her article covering the astronaut on



by Dani Johnson

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