The Solar System formed 4. 6 billion 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.
A Distant, Dusty Moon. Titan experiences changing seasons--just like Earth. In particular, Titan's seasons change around the equinox, when our Sun passes Titan's equator. At this time, huge clouds can form in tropical areas, resulting in violent methane storms. Cassini observed these ferocious methane storms during several of its flybys over Titan. Since its discovery centuries ago, Ganymede has been the target of a great deal of well-deserved attention from the planetary science community. Earth-bound telescopes have gazed at Ganymede's puzzling, icy surface and, in later decades, flyby space missions and spacecraft, circling around Jupiter, have scrutinized Ganymede--trying to solve its numerous mysteries. These observations ultimately unveiled a complicated, icy moon-world, whose bizarre surface showed a strange and puzzling contrast between its two main types of terrain: the dark, extremely ancient and heavily cratered surface terrain, and the much younger--but still ancient--lighter terrain showing a vast array of mysterious grooves and ridges. A moon is a natural body that is in orbit around a planet, and it is kept in place by both the host planet's gravity and the gravity of the moon itself. Some planets possess orbiting moons; some do not. There are several theories explaining how Earth's Moon came to be. At this point, the favored model is termed the giant impact theory, often playfully called the Big Whack or Big Splash theory by astronomers when they are in a humorous frame of mind. These funny nicknames were derived from the central tenet of the theory, which is that a Mars-sized body, named Theia, smacked into the primordial Earth billions of years ago. The collision caused part of our planet's crust to be hurled violently into space. Some of this shattered, somersaulting debris was snared into Earth-orbit, where it formed a host of moonlets that were ultimately pulled together by gravity to evolve into our Moon.