Solar System Planet Gallery

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 "Dagwood Sandwich" Moon. Earlier models of Ganymede's oceans were based on the assumption that the existence of salt didn't change the nature of liquid very much with pressure. However, Dr. Vance and his colleagues found, through laboratory experiments, that salt does increase the density of liquids under the extreme conditions hidden deep within Ganymede and similar icy moons with subsurface bodies of water. Imagine adding table salt to a glass of water. Instead of increasing in volume, the liquid will actually shrink and become denser. The reason for this is that salt ions lure water molecules. Dr. Porco believes that the icy moon, with its underground liquid sea of water, organics, as well as an energy source, may potentially host life similar to that found in analogous environments on Earth. The March 2012 images of Cassini's "tiger stripes" revealed that these cracks widen and narrow, as was suspected from pictures taken previously. The fissures also change over time more frequently than was originally thought. The two opposite sides of the fissures move laterally relative to one another. This is analogous to the way two banks of the San Andreas Fault can move forward and back, as well as in opposite directions. The greatest slipping and sliding happens when Enceladus is closest to Saturn--as scientists expected. Although the provisional designation of 2005 FY9 was given to Makemake when its discovery was made public, before that Dr. Brown's team had used the playful codename "Easter Bunny" for this small world, because of its discovery shortly after Easter.