Solar System Skirt

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.



Launched as GRAIL A and GRAIL B in September 2011, the probes were renamed Ebb and Flow by schoolchildren in Montana. The probes operated in almost circular orbit near the lunar poles at an altitude of approximately 34 miles, until their mission came to an end in December 2012. The distance between the twin probes altered a bit as they soared over areas of lesser and greater gravity that were caused by visible topological features on the Moon's surface, such as impact craters and mountains--as well as by masses that were secreted beneath the lunar surface. There was a time when Earth had no Moon. About 4.5 billion years ago, when our ancient Solar System was still forming, the dark night sky above our primordial planet was moonless. At this time, the Earth was about 60 percent formed, although it did have a differentiated crust, mantle, and core. This was a very chaotic and violent era in our Solar System's past, with planets first forming out of blobs of primordial dust, gas, and rock. During this era, frequently likened to a "cosmic shooting gallery", collisions between the still-forming planets were commonplace. Orbits were not as orderly as they are now. "If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper we will be ready for them," commented Dr. Jim Green in the April 13, 2017 NASA Press Release. Dr. Green is Director of Planetary Science at NASA Headquarters.