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
Mars orbiter Mission saw Phobos above Mars at 11:25 UT on October 14, 2014. Stickney crater is at the lower right. Resolution of the image is about 550 meters per pixel; Phobos is roughly 25 kilometers wide.
Mars orbiter Mission saw Phobos in front of Mars at 11:25 UT on October 14, 2014. Stickney crater is at the lower right. Resolution of the image is about 550 meters per pixel; Phobos is roughly 25 kilometers wide.
The position of an object represents the two color indices. The horizontal axis is V-B, blue color index [the difference in the magnitude of the object observed through a visual (green-yellow) and a blue filter], and the vertical axis is R-V, red color index (the difference in the magnitude between red and visual filters). Color (slightly enhanced) represents the hue of the object; albedo differences are not displayed. The size of a sphere illustrates the object’s size relative to others. For a few large objects, the diameter drawn represents the current estimates (for known albedos). For all the others, the diameter represents the absolute (V) magnitude of the object. For Phoebe, Triton, and Mars (yellow labels), size is not shown to scale.
The excitement is building! LightSail is counting down to our test launch, set for May 20—and you’re invited.