Astronomy – Solar System – The sun, the moon and all those objects shining in the night sky are called celestial bodies. Some celestial bodies are very big and hot. They are made up of gases. They have their own heat and light, which they emit in large amounts. These celestial bodies are called stars. The sun is a star.
Countless twinkling stars in the night sky are similar to the sun. But we do not feel their heat or light, and they look so tiny because they are very very far from us.
While watching the night sky, you may notice various patterns formed by different groups of stars. These are called constellations. Ursa Major or Big Bear is one such constellation. One of the most easily recognisable constellations is the small bear or Saptarishi (Sapta-seven, rishi-sages). It is a group of seven stars that forms a part of the large Ursa Major Constellation.
Some celestial bodies do not have their own heat and light. They are lit by the light of the stars. Such bodies are called planets. The word ‘planet’ comes from the Greek word “Planetai” which means ‘wonderers’. The earth on which we live is a planet. It gets all its heat and light from the sun, which is our nearest star. If we look at the earth from a great distance, say the moon, it will appear to be shining just as the moon.
The moon that we see in the sky is a satellite. It is a companion of our earth and moves round it. Like our earth, there are eight other planets that get heat and light from the sun. Some of them have their moons too.
OUR SOLAR SYSTEM
Our Solar system consists of nine planets. The tenth planet 2003 UB313 has also been recently sighted. The nebula from which our Solar system is supposed to have been formed, started its collapse and core formation some time 5-5.6 billion years ago and the planets were formed about 4.6 billion years ago. Our solar system consists of the sun (the star), 9 planets, 63 moons, millions of smaller bodies like asteroids and comets and huge quantity of dust-grains and gases.
Out of the nine planets, mercury, venus, earth and mars are called as the inner planets as they lie between the sun and the belt of asteroids the other five planets are called the outerplanets. Alternatively, the first four are called Terrestrial, meaning earth-like as they are made up of rock and metals, and have relatively high densities. The rest five are called Jovian or Gas Giant planets. Jovian means jupiter-like. Most of them are much larger than the terrestrial planets and have thick atmosphere, mostly of helium and hydrogen. All the planets were formed in the same period sometime about 4.6 billion years ago.
The difference between terrestrial and jovian planets can be attributed to the following conditions:
(i) The terrestrial planets were formed in the close vicinity of the parent star where it was too warm for gases to condense to solid particles. Jovian planets were formed at quite a distant location.
(ii) The solar wind was most intense nearer the sun; so, it blew off lots of gas and dust from the terrestrial planets. The solar winds were not all that intense to cause similar removal of gases from the Jovian planets.
(iii) The terrestrial planets are smaller and their lower gravity could not hold the escaping gases.
The Solar System
* Distance from the sun in astronomical unit i.e. average mean distance of the earth is 149,598,000 km = 1
@ Density in gm/cm3
# Radius: Equatorial radius 6378.137 km = 1
The sun is in the centre of the solar system. It is huge and made up of extremely hot gases. It provides the pulling force that binds the solar system. The sun is the ultimate source of heat and light for the solar system. But that tremendous heat is not felt so much by us because despite being our nearest star, it is far away from us. The sun is about 150 million km away from the earth.
There are nine planets in our solar system. In order of their distance from the sun, they are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
All the eight planets of the solar system move around the sun in fixed paths. These paths are elongated. They are called orbits. Mercury is nearest to the sun. It takes only about 88 days to complete one round along its orbit. Venus is considered as ‘Earth’s-twin’ because its size and shape are very much similar to that of the earth.
The earth is the third nearest planet to the Sun. In size, it is the fifth largest planet. It is slightly flattened at the poles. That is why, its shape is described as a Geoid. Geoid means an earth-like shape.
Conditions favourable to support life are probably found only on the earth. The earth is neither too hot nor too cold. It has water and air, which are very essential for our survival. The air has life-supporting gases like oxygen. Because of these reasons, the earth is a unique planet in the solar system.
From the outer space, the earth appears blue because its two-thirds surface is covered by water. It is, therefore, called a blue planet.
Our earth has only one satellite, that is, the moon. Its diameter is only one-quarter that of the earth. It appears so big because it is nearer to our planet than other celestial bodies. It is about 3,84,400 km away from us. The moon moves around the earth in about 27 days. It takes exactly the same time to complete one spin. As a result, only one side of the moon is visible to us on the earth.
The moon does not have conditions favourable for life. It has neither water nor air. It has mountains, plains and depressions on its surface. These cast shadows on the moon’s surface. Look at the full moon and observe these shadows.
Apart from the stars, planets and satellites, there are numerous tiny bodies which also move around the sun. These bodies are called asteroids. They are found between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The largest asteroid is the Ceres. Scientists are of the view that asteroids are parts of a planet which exploded many years back.
The small pieces of rocks which move around the sun are called meteoroids. Sometimes these meteoroids come near the earth and tend to drop upon it. During this process due to friction with the air they get heated up and burn. It causes a flash of light. Sometimes, a meteor without being completely burnt, falls on the earth and creates a hollow.
A galaxy is a huge system of billions of stars, and clouds of dust and gases. There are millions of such galaxies that make the Universe.