Understanding how the solar system works can help you better understand your world. Whether you have an interest in the sun and the stars, or you want to get a head start on the school year with some astronomy, studying the solar system, for kids of all ages, is fascinating.
What Is the Solar System?
The solar system is the sun and the objects that orbit the sun. This can include planets, such as Earth, stars, asteroids, and moons. According to NASA, the solar system is shaped like an egg, which is also described as elliptical. Did you know that everything in our solar system is in orbit around the sun?
The bigger an object in space is, the more gravity it has. Because the sun is so large, it attracts all the other objects in the solar system to it, but the space outside the solar system also tries to pull the planets away. This keeps them balanced between space and the sun, each in its path being pulled from each side.
A Look at the Planets
The solar system is made up of eight main planets. Four of the planets are located in the inner solar system and four in the outer solar system. However, there are dwarf planets that lie within the solar system as well.
Amazing Facts About the Planets
- The inner planets are called terrestrial planets and are made up of rock and metal.
- The outer planets are known as "gas giants" and are much larger than the terrestrial planets.
- Mercury is the closest planet to the sun while Neptune is the planet farthest from it.
- Mercury is the smallest of the eight planets.
- Venus is close to Earth's size but is made up of carbon dioxide. The surface of the planet is 462 degrees Celsius.
- Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and is made up of hydrogen and helium.
Gazing at the Stars
The center of the solar system, the sun, is actually a large star. But remember don't look at it directly, instead view these fun facts about the sun and stars.
Stellar Sun Facts
- The sun is a yellow dwarf star.
- The temperature is 5,500 degrees Celsius.
- The sun is so large that about one million Earths could fit inside it.
- The sun makes up 99.86 percent of the solar system's mass.
- It takes approximately eight minutes for light from the sun to reach Earth.
Fun Facts About Other Stars
- There are about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.
- There are different types of stars.
- Red dwarf stars are smaller than the sun and burn very slowly, which means they are not very bright.
- Blue giant stars are large and burn their fuel quickly. They are very bright and shine across great distances. When they finally burn out, they explode in a supernova.
- One of the largest stars in our galaxy is VY Canis Majoris.
Belts of Outer Space
These aren't the belts that hold up your pants. Explore the different belts in our solar system.
- The Kuiper Belt is located beyond Neptune and the sun. It is made up of small frozen bodies.
- Dwarf planets live in this belt, including Pluto, Haumea, and Makemake.
- Pluto is the largest object in the belt. Pluto was originally thought to be a planet, but the fact that it is part of this belt made scientists reclassify it as a dwarf planet.
- New Horizons is the first spacecraft launched into space to study Kuiper.
- The asteroid belt is located between Mars and Jupiter.
- The belt is made up of irregular-shaped objects called asteroids.
- Four of the larger asteroids are called Vesta, Ceres, Pallas, and Hygia.
- Ceres is considered a dwarf planet.
- The belt is made up of many other objects from large asteroids to tiny particles.
Comets and Asteroids
Many people confuse comets and asteroids, but they are different.
- Comets are made up of rock and ice.
- They are originally shaped like balls, but as they approach the sun they heat up and trail gas and debris behind them in a fiery "tail."
- You can see comets from earth.
- Comets are thought to originate from the outer solar system.
- Asteroids are similar to big rocks.
- Some asteroids have small companion moons.
- Large asteroids are called planetoids.
The Earth isn't the only planet to have a moon. Some actually have multiple moons. Check out these moon facts.
- Earth's moon helps stabilize the planet; otherwise, Earth would wobble on its axis.
- The moon also regulates Earth's tidal rhythms.
- The moon orbits the Earth and the Earth orbits the sun.
- The moon is about 239,000 miles away.
- The moon spins at the same time the Earth spins, so those on planet Earth only ever see one side of the moon. The first humans landed on the moon July 20, 1969.
Moons of the Solar System
- Mars has two small moons named Deimos and Phobos. There is a possible third moon as well.
- Mercury and Venus do not have moons.
- There are more than 170 moons in the solar system.
- Saturn has 53 known moons orbiting it, but 9 others that have not yet been confirmed.
10 New Facts About the Solar System
The world around us is always changing. Check out some of the newest discoveries in the solar system.
- NASA found water on the moon.
- Pluto, Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris are the five recognized dwarf planets in our solar system.
- UY Scuti is the current known biggest star. It is considered a hypergiant.
- There are 7,000 known asteroids in the asteroid belt.
- Jupiter has 72 known moons.
- Pluto has 5 moons including Nix and Hydra.
- There is mathematical evidence that a 9th planet might exist in our solar system.
- In 2017, NASA discovered Oumuamua, a planetary body in our solar system that formed somewhere else. It was our first interstellar visitor.
- NASA has found 10 possible Earth-sized planets.
- NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars in 2030.
Studying the Solar System Is Fun
The solar system is vast and much of it is still to be discovered. Understanding facts about the solar system for kids, including how the planets interact with each other and the sun, is a first step to understanding the vastness of the universe. What lies beyond the Milky Way Galaxy is yet to be discovered.