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
On October 7, 2010, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) observed its first lunar transit when the new Moon passed directly between the spacecraft (in its geosynchronous orbit) and the Sun. With SDO watching the Sun in a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light, the dark Moon created a partial eclipse of the Sun.
This natural color, time-lapse movie comprised of images from the Cassini spacecraft taken in December 2010 shows Dione moving from left to right, passing behind its sister moon Tethys, which remains in the center of the frame.
The Solar System contains 18 or 19 natural satellites of planets that are large enough for self-gravity to make them round. (Why the uncertain number? Neptune’s moon Proteus is on the edge.) They are shown here to scale with each other. Two of them are larger than Mercury; seven are larger than Pluto and Eris. If they were not orbiting planets, many of these worlds would be called “planets,” and scientists who study them are called “planetary scientists.”
Filed under Enceladus, Dione, Tethys, Titan, Rhea, Iapetus, Saturn's moons, Mimas, Jupiter's moons, Io, Europa, scale comparisons, Ganymede, amateur image processing, presentation slides, Callisto, the Moon, Cassini, Galileo, Voyager 1 and 2, amateur astrophotos, pretty pictures, Triton, Neptune's moons, Uranus' moons
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