Compare the Planets
Comparing the physical characteristics of the worlds in our solar system (and beyond)
The worlds of our solar system come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Red-eyed Jupiter, ringed Saturn, and frigid Uranus and Neptune are giant gassy globes containing nearly all of the matter in the solar system. These Jovian planets, or gas giants, are huge worlds of air, clouds, and fluid that may have no solid surfaces no matter how deep you go. Everything else in the solar system is just rock, ice, and dust. The largest rockballs are known as the terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, with our Moon usually considered part of the club, and now Vesta is applying for membership. Earth is the biggest of all the rocky worlds.
But the planets are not the only worlds of the solar system. All but two of the planets are orbited by moons, each of them a world unto itself. The largest moons are bigger than the smallest planets, and 16 or 17 would qualify as dwarf planets if they orbited the Sun. There are more than 100 Kuiper belt dwarf planets, but only one among the asteroids, Ceres.
Six solid worlds -- Venus, Earth, Mars, Titan, Triton, and Pluto -- have atmospheres dense enough to produce weather. Eris likely does, when it is near its perihelion. We have witnessed active geology on four worlds -- Earth, Io, Enceladus, and Triton -- and we suspect it on Venus, Europa, and Titan. Comparing the same processes across many worlds helps us to understand how each planet's unique composition and history influence its present state, and will help us predict what to expect on Earth in the future.
Pretty Pictures with Many Worlds
This composite image shows a sliver of Pluto's large moon, Charon, and all four of Pluto's small moons, as resolved by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons. All the moons are displayed with a common intensity stretch and spatial scale (see scale bar). Charon is by far the largest of Pluto's moons, with a diameter of 1,212 kilometers. Nix and Hydra have comparable sizes, approximately 40 kilometers across in their longest dimension above. Kerberos and Styx are much smaller and have comparable sizes, roughly 10-12 kilometers across in their longest dimension. All four small moons have highly elongated shapes, a characteristic thought to be typical of small bodies in the Kuiper Belt.
Under a size cutoff of 10,000 kilometers, there are two planets, 18 or 19 moons, 1 or 2 asteroids, and 87 trans-Neptunian objects, most of which do not yet have names. All are shown to scale, keeping in mind that for most of the trans-Neptunian objects, their sizes are only approximately known.
Filed under Enceladus, Dione, Tethys, Titan, Rhea, NASA Mars missions before 1996, Iapetus, MESSENGER, Dawn, Saturn's moons, dwarf planets beyond Neptune, Mimas, Jupiter's moons, Io, Pluto, Europa, scale comparisons, Charon, Ganymede, amateur image processing, Eris, Callisto, the Moon, Mars, asteroid 4 Vesta, New Horizons, Cassini, Galileo, Voyager 1 and 2, asteroid 2 Pallas, asteroid 1 Ceres, trans-neptunian objects, pretty pictures, asteroids, best of, Triton, Neptune's moons, Uranus' moons
On March 3, 2010, Cassini flew within about 2,000 kilometers of Dione's co-orbital moon Helene, snapping a series of images with its narrow-angle camera. Most of those photos missed Helene entirely; toward the end of the encounter, some caught Helene in the corner of the image. In the background are the cloud tops of Saturn. This image was artificially colorized; the data is from a single green-filter image of Helene and Saturn.
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