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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

Enceladus rising

Enceladus rising

Cassini looked toward the night sides of Enceladus and Saturn, catching Enceladus crossing the barely lit edge of Saturn's disk, to capture this unusual four-image animation on August 13, 2010.

Filed under Enceladus, pretty pictures, Cassini, amateur image processing, Saturn's moons, many worlds, Saturn, animation

DSCOVR views the Moon crossing Earth

DSCOVR views the Moon crossing Earth

NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured this unique view of the Moon as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth last month. This view shows the fully illuminated “dark side” of the moon that is never visible from Earth.

These images were taken between 3:50 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. EDT on July 16, showing the moon moving over the Pacific Ocean near North America. The North Pole is in the upper left corner of the image, reflecting the orbital tilt of Earth from the vantage point of the spacecraft.

Filed under Earth observing missions, pretty pictures, Earth, the Moon, global views, many worlds, animation

Earth and Moon from DSCOVR

Earth and Moon from DSCOVR

NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured this unique view of the Moon as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth last month. This view shows the fully illuminated “dark side” of the moon that is never visible from Earth. Ian Regan processed this version of the image to account for the Moon's motion.

Filed under Earth observing missions, pretty pictures, amateur image processing, Earth, the Moon, global views, many worlds

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Section Highlights

Planetary Facts

Mass, diameter, density, gravity, orbital characteristics, presented both in metric units and measured relative to Earth.

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Asteroids and Comets Visited by Spacecraft

A comparison of all the asteroids and comets ever visited by spacecraft, up to date as of November 10 (when Deep Impact flew past Hartley 2). Vesta is not included.

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Every Round Object in the Solar System, to Scale

A correctly scaled, reasonably correctly colored view of the largest bodies in the solar system.

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