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
Cassini spotted Titan beyond Saturn's limb on July 2, 2012. The south polar vortex that formed after winter arrived at Titan's south pole is visible. The atmosphere in Saturn's winter (southern) hemisphere is also taking on a methane-blue tinge.
The Pluto system contains two large worlds (Pluto and Charon) as well as at least four small moons (Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx). We will not have high-resolution images of any of them until the New Horizons flyby in 2015. In the meantime, this graphic uses objects photographed by Cassini in the Saturn system to represent the relative sizes of the objects in the Pluto system.
Mars Express' High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) caught Phobos over Mars' limb on its orbit 7982, on March 26, 2010. The waviness of Mars in the background is a by-product of the line-scanning nature of HRSC. This photo was captured during one of two Phobos flyby seasons that happened last year; the other was in August. The March photos are now available to everyone via ESA's Planetary Science Archive.
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