Solar System Tour Interactive

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.

Had Jupiter continued to gain weight, it would have grown ever hotter and hotter, and ultimately self-sustaining, raging nuclear-fusing fires may have been ignited in its heart. This would have sent Jupiter down that long, shining stellar road to full-fledged stardom. Had this occurred, Jupiter and our Sun would have been binary stellar sisters, and we probably would not be here now to tell the story. Our planet, and its seven lovely sisters, as well as all of the moons and smaller objects dancing around our Star, would not have been able to form. However, Jupiter failed to reach stardom. After its brilliant, sparkling birth, it began to shrink. Today, Jupiter emits a mere.00001 as much radiation as our Sun, and its luminosity is only.0000001 that of our Star. The three little moons (Methone, Pallene, and Anthe) orbit at very similar distances from Saturn, and they have a dynamical relationship. Mimas disturbs the trio of little moons, and causes the orbit of Methone to vary by as much as 20 kilometers (12.4 miles). Mimas causes the orbit of Pallene to vary by a slightly smaller amount--but it has the greatest influence on the orbit of the moon Anthe. 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.