Solar System Borderlands

The Solar System formed 4. 6┬ábillion years ago from the gravitational collapse of a giant interstellar molecular cloud. The vast majority of the system’s mass is in the Sun, with the majority of the remaining mass contained in Jupiter. The four smaller inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, are terrestrial planets, being primarily composed of rock and metal. The four outer planets are giant planets, being substantially more massive than the terrestrials. The two largest, Jupiter and Saturn, are gas giants, being composed mainly of hydrogen and helium; the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are ice giants, being composed mostly of substances with relatively high melting points compared with hydrogen and helium, called volatiles, such as water, ammonia and methane. All eight planets have almost circular orbits that lie within a nearly flat disc called the ecliptic.



The team of scientists used data gathered by NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, composed of a duo of twin spacecraft that circled Earth's Moon throughout 2012, each measuring the push and pull of the other as an indicator of lunar gravity. Jupiter, along with its beautiful ringed sister planet, Saturn, are the gas-giant duo of our Sun's family of eight major planets. The other two giant planets--that dwell in our Solar System's outer limits--are Uranus and Neptune. Uranus and Neptune are classified as ice giants, because they carry within them larger cores than Jupiter and Saturn, as well as thinner gaseous envelopes. Jupiter and Saturn may (or may not) contain small, hidden cores, that are heavily veiled by extremely massive, dense gaseous envelopes. We earthlings love to look up at the moon. So much does the moon enamor us; we write movies, songs and poems by the droves that contain the name of the earth's super satellite. A case in point is the fact that one of the biggest selling record albums of all time is Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."