Overview of the Solar System

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Solar System Sun Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune 1 23 50 70 93 120 153 175 191 212

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Solar System


Solar System
Solar System

Planets and dwarf planets of the Solar System. Sizes are to scale. Distances from the Sun are not to scale. Age Location System mass Nearest star Nearest known planetary system 4.568 billion years Local Interstellar Cloud, Local Bubble, Orion–Cygnus Arm, Milky Way 1.0014 solar masses Proxima Centauri (4.22 ly), Alpha Centauri system (4.37 ly) Epsilon Eridani system (10.49 ly) Planetary system Semi-major axis of outer planet (Neptune) Distance to Kuiper cliff No. of stars No. of planets No. of known dwarf planets No. of known natural satellites No. of known minor planets No. of known comets No. of identified round satellites 4.503 billion km (30.10 AU) 50 AU 1 8 5 (dozens more awaiting confirmation, possibly hundreds) 401 (176 of planets 587,527 3,155 19 Orbit about the Galactic Center Inclination of invariable plane to the galactic plane 60.19° (ecliptic) Distance to Galactic Center Orbital speed Orbital period 27,000±1,000 ly 220 km/s 225–250 Myr Star-related properties Spectral type Frost line Distance to heliopause Hill sphere radius G2V 2.7 AU ~120 AU ~1–2 ly [1] [1] [2] and 225 of minor planets )


Solar System The Solar System[a] consists of the Sun and the astronomical objects gravitationally bound in orbit around it, all of which formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun. Of the many objects that orbit the Sun, most of the mass is contained within eight relatively solitary planets[e] whose orbits are almost circular and lie within a nearly flat disc called the ecliptic plane. The four smaller inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, also called the terrestrial planets, are primarily composed of rock and metal. The four outer planets, the gas giants, are substantially more massive than the terrestrials. The two largest, Jupiter and Saturn, are composed mainly of hydrogen and helium; the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are composed largely of ices, such as water, ammonia and methane, and are often referred to separately as "ice giants". The Solar System is also home to a number of regions populated by smaller objects. The asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter, is similar to the terrestrial planets as it is composed mainly of rock and metal. Beyond Neptune's orbit lie the Kuiper belt and scattered disc; linked populations of trans-Neptunian objects composed mostly of ices such as water, ammonia and methane. Within these populations, five individual objects, Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris, are recognized to be large enough to have been rounded by their own gravity, and are thus termed dwarf planets.[e] In addition to thousands of small bodies[e] in those two regions, several dozen of which are considered dwarf-planet candidates, various other small body populations including comets, centaurs and interplanetary dust freely travel between regions. Six of the planets and three of the dwarf planets are orbited by natural satellites,[b] usually termed "moons" after Earth's Moon. Each of the outer planets is encircled by planetary rings of dust and other particles. The solar wind, a flow of plasma from the Sun, creates a bubble in the interstellar medium known as the heliosphere, which extends out to the edge of the scattered disc. The Oort cloud, which is believed to be the source for long-period comets, may also exist at a distance roughly a thousand times further than the heliosphere. The heliopause is the point at which pressure from the solar wind is equal to the opposing pressure of interstellar wind. The Solar System is located within one of the outer arms of Milky Way galaxy, which contains about 200 billion stars.


Discovery and exploration
For many thousands of years, humanity, with a few notable exceptions, did not recognize the existence of the Solar System. People believed the Earth to be stationary at the centre of the universe and categorically different from the divine or ethereal objects that moved through the sky. Although the Greek philosopher Aristarchus of Samos had speculated on a heliocentric reordering of the cosmos,[3] Nicolaus Copernicus was the first to develop a mathematically predictive heliocentric system.[4] His 17th-century successors, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton, developed an understanding of physics that led to the gradual acceptance of the idea that the Earth moves around the Sun and that the planets are governed by the same physical laws that governed the Earth. Additionally, the invention of the telescope led to the discovery of further planets and moons. In more recent times, improvements in the telescope and the use of unmanned spacecraft have enabled the investigation of geological phenomena such as mountains and craters, and seasonal meteorological phenomena such as clouds, dust storms and ice caps on the other planets.

Solar System



The orbits of the bodies in the Solar System to scale (clockwise from top left)

The principal component of the Solar System is the Sun, a G2 main-sequence star that contains 99.86 percent of the system's known mass and dominates it gravitationally.[5] The Sun's four largest orbiting bodies, the gas giants, account for 99 percent of the remaining mass, with Jupiter and Saturn together comprising more than 90 percent.[c] Most large objects in orbit around the Sun lie near the plane of Earth's orbit, known as the ecliptic. The planets are very close to the ecliptic while comets and Kuiper belt objects are frequently at significantly greater angles to it.[6][7] All the planets and most other objects orbit the Sun in the same direction that the Sun is rotating (counter-clockwise, as viewed from above the Sun's north pole).[8] There are exceptions, such as Halley's Comet. The overall structure of the charted regions of the Solar System consists of the Sun, four relatively small inner planets surrounded by a belt of rocky asteroids, and four gas giants surrounded by the Kuiper belt of icy objects.

Solar System Astronomers sometimes informally divide this structure into separate regions. The inner Solar System includes the four terrestrial planets and the asteroid belt. The outer Solar System is beyond the asteroids, including the four gas giants.[9] Since the discovery of the Kuiper belt, the outermost parts of the Solar System are considered a distinct region consisting of the objects beyond Neptune.[10] Most of the planets in the Solar System possess secondary systems of their own, being orbited by planetary objects called natural satellites, or moons (two of which are larger than the planet Mercury), or, in the case of the four gas giants, by planetary rings; thin bands of tiny particles that orbit them in unison. Most of the largest natural satellites are in synchronous rotation, with one face permanently turned toward their parent. Kepler's laws of planetary motion describe the orbits of objects about the Sun. Following Kepler's laws, each object travels along an ellipse with the Sun at one focus. Objects closer to the Sun (with smaller semi-major axes) travel more quickly, as they are more affected by the Sun's gravity. On an elliptical orbit, a body's distance from the Sun varies over the course of its year. A body's closest approach to the Sun is called its perihelion, while its most distant point from the Sun is called its aphelion. The orbits of the planets are nearly circular, but many comets, asteroids and Kuiper belt objects follow highly elliptical orbits. The positions of the bodies in the Solar System can be predicted using numerical models. Due to the vast distances involved, many representations of the Solar System show orbits the same distance apart. In reality, with a few exceptions, the farther a planet or belt is from the Sun, the larger the distance between it and the previous orbit. For example, Venus is approximately 0.33 astronomical units (AU)[d] farther out from the Sun than Mercury, while Saturn is 4.3 AU out from Jupiter, and Neptune lies 10.5 AU out from Uranus. Attempts have been made to determine a relationship between these orbital distances (for example, the Titius–Bode law),[11] but no such theory has been accepted. A number of Solar System models on Earth attempt to convey the relative scales involved in the Solar System on human terms. Some models are mechanical — called orreries — while others extend across cities or regional areas.[12] The largest such scale model, the Sweden Solar System, uses the 110-metre Ericsson Globe in Stockholm as its substitute Sun, and, following the scale, Jupiter is a 7.5 metre sphere at Arlanda International Airport, 40 km away, while the farthest current object, Sedna, is a 10-cm sphere in Luleå, 912 km away.[13][14]


Range of selected bodies of the Solar System from the middle of the Sun. The left and right edges of each bar correspond to the perihelion and aphelion of the body, respectively. Long bars denote high orbital eccentricity.

The Sun, which comprises nearly all the matter in the Solar System, is composed of roughly 98% hydrogen and helium.[15] Jupiter and Saturn, which comprise nearly all the remaining matter, possess atmospheres composed of roughly 99% of those same elements.[16][17] A composition gradient exists in the Solar System, created by heat and light pressure from the Sun; those objects closer to the Sun, which are more affected by heat and light pressure, are composed of elements with high melting points. Objects farther from the Sun are composed largely of materials with lower melting points.[18] The boundary in the Solar System beyond which those volatile substances could condense is known as the frost line, and it lies at roughly 4 AU from the Sun.[19] The objects of the inner Solar System are composed mostly of rock,[20] the collective name for compounds with high melting points, such as silicates, iron or nickel, that remained solid under almost all conditions in the protoplanetary nebula.[21] Jupiter and Saturn are composed mainly of gases, the astronomical term for materials with extremely low melting points and high vapor pressure such as molecular hydrogen, helium, and neon, which were always in the gaseous phase in the nebula.[21] Ices, like water, methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide,[20] have melting points up to a few hundred kelvins, while their phase depends on the ambient pressure and temperature.[21] They can be found as ices, liquids, or gases in various places in the Solar System, while in the nebula they were

Solar System either in the solid or gaseous phase.[21] Icy substances comprise the majority of the satellites of the giant planets, as well as most of Uranus and Neptune (the so-called "ice giants") and the numerous small objects that lie beyond Neptune's orbit.[20][22] Together, gases and ices are referred to as volatiles.[23]


The Sun is the Solar System's star, and by far its chief component. Its large mass (332,900 Earth masses)[24] produces temperatures and densities in its core great enough to sustain nuclear fusion,[25] which releases enormous amounts of energy, mostly radiated into space as electromagnetic radiation, peaking in the 400–700 nm band of visible light.[26] The Sun is classified as a type G2 yellow dwarf, but this name is misleading as, compared to the majority of stars in our galaxy, the Sun is rather large and bright.[27] Stars are classified by the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, a graph that plots the brightness of stars with their surface temperatures. Generally, hotter A transit of Venus stars are brighter. Stars following this pattern are said to be on the main sequence, and the Sun lies right in the middle of it. However, stars brighter and hotter than the Sun are rare, while substantially dimmer and cooler stars, known as red dwarfs, are common, making up 85 percent of the stars in the galaxy.[27][28] Evidence suggests that the Sun's position on the main sequence puts it in the "prime of life" for a star, in that it has not yet exhausted its store of hydrogen for nuclear fusion. The Sun is growing brighter; early in its history it was 70 percent as bright as it is today.[29] The Sun is a population I star; it was born in the later stages of the universe's evolution, and thus contains more elements heavier than hydrogen and helium ("metals" in astronomical parlance) than older population II stars.[30] Elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were formed in the cores of ancient and exploding stars, so the first generation of stars had to die before the universe could be enriched with these atoms. The oldest stars contain few metals, while stars born later have more. This high metallicity is thought to have been crucial to the Sun's developing a planetary system, because planets form from accretion of "metals".[31]

Interplanetary medium
Along with light, the Sun radiates a continuous stream of charged particles (a plasma) known as the solar wind. This stream of particles spreads outwards at roughly 1.5 million kilometres per hour,[32] creating a tenuous atmosphere (the heliosphere) that permeates the Solar System out to at least 100 AU (see heliopause).[33] This is known as the interplanetary medium. Activity on the Sun's surface, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, disturb the heliosphere, creating space weather and causing geomagnetic storms.[34] The largest The heliospheric current sheet structure within the heliosphere is the heliospheric current sheet, a spiral form created by the actions of the Sun's rotating magnetic field on the interplanetary medium.[35][36] Earth's magnetic field stops its atmosphere from being stripped away by the solar wind. Venus and Mars do not have magnetic fields, and as a result, the solar wind causes their atmospheres to gradually bleed away into space.[37] Coronal mass ejections and similar events blow a magnetic field and huge quantities of material from the surface of the Sun. The interaction of this magnetic field and material with Earth's magnetic field funnels charged particles into the Earth's upper atmosphere, where its interactions create aurorae seen near the magnetic poles.

Solar System Cosmic rays originate outside the Solar System. The heliosphere partially shields the Solar System, and planetary magnetic fields (for those planets that have them) also provide some protection. The density of cosmic rays in the interstellar medium and the strength of the Sun's magnetic field change on very long timescales, so the level of cosmic radiation in the Solar System varies, though by how much is unknown.[38] The interplanetary medium is home to at least two disc-like regions of cosmic dust. The first, the zodiacal dust cloud, lies in the inner Solar System and causes zodiacal light. It was likely formed by collisions within the asteroid belt brought on by interactions with the planets.[39] The second extends from about 10 AU to about 40 AU, and was probably created by similar collisions within the Kuiper belt.[40][41]


Inner Solar System
The inner Solar System is the traditional name for the region comprising the terrestrial planets and asteroids.[42] Composed mainly of silicates and metals, the objects of the inner Solar System are relatively close to the Sun; the radius of this entire region is shorter than the distance between Jupiter and Saturn.

Inner planets
The four inner or terrestrial planets have dense, rocky compositions, few or no moons, and no ring systems. They are composed largely of refractory minerals, such as the silicates, which form their crusts and mantles, and metals such as iron and nickel, which form their cores. Three of the four inner planets (Venus, Earth and Mars) have atmospheres substantial enough to generate weather; all have impact craters and tectonic surface features such as rift valleys and volcanoes. The term inner planet should not be confused with inferior planet, which designates those planets that are closer to the Sun than Earth is (i.e. Mercury and Venus). Mercury Mercury (0.4 AU from the Sun) is the closest planet to the Sun and the smallest planet in the Solar System (0.055 Earth masses). Mercury has no natural satellites, and its only known geological features besides impact craters are lobed ridges or rupes, probably produced by a period of contraction early in its history.[43] Mercury's almost negligible atmosphere consists of atoms blasted off its surface by the solar wind.[44] Its relatively large iron core and thin mantle have not yet been adequately explained. Hypotheses include that its outer layers were stripped off by a giant impact, and that it was prevented from fully accreting by the young Sun's energy.[45][46] Venus Venus (0.7 AU from the Sun) is close in size to Earth (0.815 Earth masses), and, like Earth, has a thick silicate mantle around an iron core, a substantial atmosphere and evidence of internal geological activity. However, it is much drier than Earth and its atmosphere is ninety times as dense. Venus has no natural satellites. It is the hottest planet, with surface temperatures over 400 °C, most likely due to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.[47] No definitive evidence of current geological activity has been detected on Venus, but it has no magnetic field that would prevent depletion of its substantial atmosphere, which suggests that its atmosphere is regularly replenished by volcanic eruptions.[48]

The inner planets. From left to right: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars (sizes to scale, interplanetary distances not)

Solar System Earth Earth (1 AU from the Sun) is the largest and densest of the inner planets, the only one known to have current geological activity, and is the only place in the Solar System where life is known to exist.[49] Its liquid hydrosphere is unique among the terrestrial planets, and it is also the only planet where plate tectonics has been observed. Earth's atmosphere is radically different from those of the other planets, having been altered by the presence of life to contain 21% free oxygen.[50] It has one natural satellite, the Moon, the only large satellite of a terrestrial planet in the Solar System. Mars Mars (1.5 AU from the Sun) is smaller than Earth and Venus (0.107 Earth masses). It possesses an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide with a surface pressure of 6.1 millibars (roughly 0.6 percent that of the Earth's).[51] Its surface, peppered with vast volcanoes such as Olympus Mons and rift valleys such as Valles Marineris, shows geological activity that may have persisted until as recently as 2 million years ago.[52] Its red colour comes from iron oxide (rust) in its soil.[53] Mars has two tiny natural satellites (Deimos and Phobos) thought to be captured asteroids.[54]


Asteroid belt
Asteroids are small Solar System bodies[e] composed mainly of refractory rocky and metallic minerals, with some ice.[55] The asteroid belt occupies the orbit between Mars and Jupiter, between 2.3 and 3.3 AU from the Sun. It is thought to be remnants from the Solar System's formation that failed to coalesce because of the gravitational interference of Jupiter.[56] Asteroids range in size from hundreds of kilometres across to microscopic. All asteroids except the largest, Ceres, are classified as small Solar System bodies, but some asteroids such as Vesta and Hygiea may be reclassed as dwarf planets if they are shown to have achieved hydrostatic equilibrium.[57] The asteroid belt contains tens of thousands, Image of the asteroid belt and the Trojan asteroids possibly millions, of objects over one kilometre in diameter.[58] Despite this, the total mass of the asteroid belt is unlikely to be more than a thousandth of that of the Earth.[59] The asteroid belt is very sparsely populated; spacecraft routinely pass through without incident. Asteroids with diameters between 10 and 10−4 m are called meteoroids.[60]

Solar System Ceres Ceres (2.77 AU) is the largest asteroid, a protoplanet, and a dwarf planet.[e] It has a diameter of slightly under 1000 km, and a mass large enough for its own gravity to pull it into a spherical shape. Ceres was considered a planet when it was discovered in the 19th century, but was reclassified as an asteroid in the 1850s as further observations revealed additional asteroids.[61] It was classified in 2006 as a dwarf planet. Asteroid groups Asteroids in the asteroid belt are divided into asteroid groups and families based on their orbital characteristics. Asteroid moons are asteroids that orbit larger asteroids. They are not as clearly distinguished as planetary moons, sometimes being almost as large as their partners. The asteroid belt also contains main-belt comets, which may have been the source of Earth's water.[62] Trojan asteroids are located in either of Jupiter's L4 or L5 points (gravitationally stable regions leading and trailing a planet in its orbit); the term "Trojan" is also used for small bodies in any other planetary or satellite Lagrange point. Hilda asteroids are in a 2:3 resonance with Jupiter; that is, they go around the Sun three times for every two Jupiter orbits.[63] The inner Solar System is also dusted with rogue asteroids, many of which cross the orbits of the inner planets.[64]


Outer Solar System
The outer region of the Solar System is home to the gas giants and their large moons. Many short-period comets, including the centaurs, also orbit in this region. Due to their greater distance from the Sun, the solid objects in the outer Solar System contain a higher proportion of volatiles such as water, ammonia and methane, than the rocky denizens of the inner Solar System, as the colder temperatures allow these compounds to remain solid.

Outer planets
The four outer planets, or gas giants (sometimes called Jovian planets), collectively make up 99 percent of the mass known to orbit the Sun.[c] Jupiter and Saturn are each many tens of times the mass of the Earth and consist overwhelmingly of hydrogen and helium; Uranus and Neptune are far less massive (<20 Earth masses) and possess more ices in their makeup. For these reasons, some astronomers suggest they belong in their own category, "ice giants".[65] All four gas giants have rings, although only Saturn's ring system is easily observed from Earth. The term outer planet should not be confused with superior planet, which designates planets outside Earth's orbit and thus includes both the outer planets and Mars. Jupiter Jupiter (5.2 AU), at 318 Earth masses, is 2.5 times the mass of all the other planets put together. It is composed largely of hydrogen and helium. Jupiter's strong internal heat creates a number of semi-permanent features in its atmosphere, such as cloud bands and the Great Red Spot.

From top to bottom: Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, and Jupiter (not to scale)

Jupiter has 66 known satellites. The four largest, Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa, show similarities to the terrestrial planets, such as volcanism and internal heating.[66] Ganymede, the largest satellite in the Solar System, is larger than Mercury.

Solar System Saturn Saturn (9.5 AU), distinguished by its extensive ring system, has several similarities to Jupiter, such as its atmospheric composition and magnetosphere. Although Saturn has 60% of Jupiter's volume, it is less than a third as massive, at 95 Earth masses, making it the least dense planet in the Solar System. The rings of Saturn are made up of small ice and rock particles. Saturn has 62 confirmed satellites; two of which, Titan and Enceladus, show signs of geological activity, though they are largely made of ice.[67] Titan, the second-largest moon in the Solar System, is larger than Mercury and the only satellite in the Solar System with a substantial atmosphere. Uranus Uranus (19.6 AU), at 14 Earth masses, is the lightest of the outer planets. Uniquely among the planets, it orbits the Sun on its side; its axial tilt is over ninety degrees to the ecliptic. It has a much colder core than the other gas giants, and radiates very little heat into space.[68] Uranus has 27 known satellites, the largest ones being Titania, Oberon, Umbriel, Ariel and Miranda. Neptune Neptune (30 AU), though slightly smaller than Uranus, is more massive (equivalent to 17 Earths) and therefore more dense. It radiates more internal heat, but not as much as Jupiter or Saturn.[69] Neptune has 13 known satellites. The largest, Triton, is geologically active, with geysers of liquid nitrogen.[70] Triton is the only large satellite with a retrograde orbit. Neptune is accompanied in its orbit by a number of minor planets, termed Neptune trojans, that are in 1:1 resonance with it.


Comets are small Solar System bodies,[e] typically only a few kilometres across, composed largely of volatile ices. They have highly eccentric orbits, generally a perihelion within the orbits of the inner planets and an aphelion far beyond Pluto. When a comet enters the inner Solar System, its proximity to the Sun causes its icy surface to sublimate and ionise, creating a coma: a long tail of gas and dust often visible to the naked eye. Short-period comets have orbits lasting less than two hundred years. Long-period comets have orbits lasting thousands of years. Short-period comets are believed to originate in the Kuiper belt, while long-period comets, such as Hale–Bopp, are believed to originate in the Oort cloud. Many comet groups, such as the Kreutz Sungrazers, formed from the breakup of a single parent.[71] Some comets with hyperbolic orbits may originate outside the Solar System, but determining their precise orbits is difficult.[72] Old comets that have had most of their volatiles driven out by solar warming are often categorised as asteroids.[73]

Comet Hale–Bopp

Solar System Centaurs The centaurs are icy comet-like bodies with a semi-major axis greater than Jupiter's (5.5 AU) and less than Neptune's (30 AU). The largest known centaur, 10199 Chariklo, has a diameter of about 250 km.[74] The first centaur discovered, 2060 Chiron, has also been classified as comet (95P) since it develops a coma just as comets do when they approach the Sun.[75]


Trans-Neptunian region
The area beyond Neptune, or the "trans-Neptunian region", is still largely unexplored. It appears to consist overwhelmingly of small worlds (the largest having a diameter only a fifth that of the Earth and a mass far smaller than that of the Moon) composed mainly of rock and ice. This region is sometimes known as the "outer Solar System", though others use that term to mean the region beyond the asteroid belt.

Kuiper belt
The Kuiper belt, the region's first formation, is a great ring of debris similar to the asteroid belt, but composed mainly of ice.[76] It extends between 30 and 50 AU from the Sun. Though it contains at least three dwarf planets, it is composed mainly of small Solar System bodies. Many of the largest Kuiper belt objects, such as Quaoar, Varuna, and Orcus, may be reclassified as dwarf planets. There are estimated to be over 100,000 Kuiper belt objects with a diameter greater than 50 km, but the total mass of the Kuiper belt is thought to be only a tenth or even a hundredth the mass of the Earth.[77] Many Kuiper belt objects have multiple satellites,[78] and most have orbits that take them outside the plane of the ecliptic.[79] The Kuiper belt can be roughly divided into the "classical" belt and the resonances.[76] Resonances are orbits linked to that of Neptune (e.g. twice for every three Neptune orbits, or once for every two). The first resonance begins within the orbit of Neptune itself. The classical belt consists of objects having no resonance with Neptune, and extends from roughly 39.4 AU to 47.7 AU.[80] Members of the classical Kuiper belt are classified as cubewanos, after the first of their kind to be discovered, (15760) 1992 QB1, and are still in near primordial, low-eccentricity orbits.[81]
Plot of all known Kuiper belt objects, set against the four outer planets

Solar System Pluto and Charon Pluto (39 AU average), a dwarf planet, is the largest known object in the Kuiper belt. When discovered in 1930, it was considered to be the ninth planet; this changed in 2006 with the adoption of a formal definition of planet. Pluto has a relatively eccentric orbit inclined 17 degrees to the ecliptic plane and ranging from 29.7 AU from the Sun at perihelion (within the orbit of Neptune) to 49.5 AU at aphelion. Charon, Pluto's largest moon, is sometimes described as part of a binary system with Pluto, as the two bodies orbit a barycenter of gravity above their surfaces (i.e., they appear to "orbit each other"). Beyond Charon, four much smaller moons, P5, Nix, P4, and Hydra are known to orbit within the system. Pluto has a 3:2 resonance with Neptune, meaning that Pluto orbits twice round the Sun for every three Neptunian orbits. Kuiper belt objects whose orbits share this resonance are called plutinos.[82] Makemake and Haumea Makemake (45.79 AU average), while smaller than Pluto, is the largest known object in the classical Kuiper belt (that is, it is not in a confirmed resonance with Neptune). Makemake is the brightest object in the Kuiper belt after Pluto. It was named and designated a dwarf planet in 2008.[83] Its orbit is far more inclined than Pluto's, at 29°.[84] Haumea (43.13 AU average) is in an orbit similar to Makemake except that it is caught in a 7:12 orbital resonance with Neptune.[85] It is about the same size as Makemake and has two natural satellites. A rapid, 3.9-hour rotation gives it a flattened and elongated shape. It was named and designated a dwarf planet in 2008. [86]


10}}, Quaoar, Orcus, and Earth. These eight trans-Neptunian objects have the brightest absolute magnitudes, although several other TNOs have been found to be physically larger than Orcus, and several more may yet be found.

Scattered disc
The scattered disc, which overlaps the Kuiper belt but extends much further outwards, is thought to be the source of short-period comets. Scattered disc objects are believed to have been ejected into erratic orbits by the gravitational influence of Neptune's early outward migration. Most scattered disc objects (SDOs) have perihelia within the Kuiper belt but aphelia as far as 150 AU from the Sun. SDOs' orbits are also highly inclined to the ecliptic plane, and are often almost perpendicular to it. Some astronomers consider the scattered disc to be merely another region of the Kuiper belt, and describe scattered disc objects as "scattered Kuiper belt objects."[87] Some astronomers also classify centaurs as inward-scattered Kuiper belt objects along with the outward-scattered residents of the scattered disc.[88] Eris Eris (68 AU average) is the largest known scattered disc object, and caused a debate about what constitutes a planet, since it is 25% more massive than Pluto[89] and about the same diameter. It is the most massive of the known dwarf planets. It has one moon, Dysnomia. Like Pluto, its orbit is highly eccentric, with a perihelion of 38.2 AU (roughly Pluto's distance from the Sun) and an aphelion of 97.6 AU, and steeply inclined to the ecliptic plane.

Farthest regions
The point at which the Solar System ends and interstellar space begins is not precisely defined, since its outer boundaries are shaped by two separate forces: the solar wind and the Sun's gravity. The outer limit of the solar wind's influence is roughly four times Pluto's distance from the Sun; this heliopause is considered the beginning of the interstellar medium.[33] However, the Sun's Hill sphere, the effective range of its gravitational dominance, is believed to extend up to a thousand times farther.[90]

Solar System


The heliosphere is divided into two separate regions. The solar wind travels at roughly 400 km/s until it collides with the interstellar wind; the flow of plasma in the interstellar medium. The collision occurs at the termination shock, which is roughly 80–100 AU from the Sun upwind of the interstellar medium and roughly 200 AU from the Sun downwind.[91] Here the wind slows dramatically, condenses and becomes more turbulent,[91] forming a great oval structure known as Energetic neutral atoms map of heliosheath and the heliosheath. This structure is believed to look and behave very heliopause by IBEX. Credit: NASA/Goddard much like a comet's tail, extending outward for a further 40 AU on the Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization upwind side but tailing many times that distance downwind; but Studio. evidence from the Cassini and Interstellar Boundary Explorer spacecraft has suggested that it is in fact forced into a bubble shape by the constraining action of the interstellar magnetic field.[92] Both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are reported to have passed the termination shock and entered the heliosheath, at 94 and 84 AU from the Sun, respectively.[93][94] The outer boundary of the heliosphere, the heliopause, is the point at which the solar wind finally terminates and is the beginning of interstellar space.[33] The shape and form of the outer edge of the heliosphere is likely affected by the fluid dynamics of interactions with the interstellar medium[91] as well as solar magnetic fields prevailing to the south, e.g. it is bluntly shaped with the northern hemisphere extending 9 AU farther than the southern hemisphere. Beyond the heliopause, at around 230 AU, lies the bow shock, a plasma "wake" left by the Sun as it travels through the Milky Way.[95] No spacecraft have yet passed beyond the heliopause, so it is impossible to know for certain the conditions in local interstellar space. It is expected that NASA's Voyager spacecraft will pass the heliopause some time in the next decade and transmit valuable data on radiation levels and solar wind back to the Earth.[96] How well the heliosphere shields the Solar System from cosmic rays is poorly understood. A NASA-funded team has developed a concept of a "Vision Mission" dedicated to sending a probe to the heliosphere.[97][98]

Oort cloud
The hypothetical Oort cloud is a spherical cloud of up to a trillion icy objects that is believed to be the source for all long-period comets and to surround the Solar System at roughly 50,000 AU (around 1 light-year (ly)), and possibly to as far as 100,000 AU (1.87 ly). It is believed to be composed of comets that were ejected from the inner Solar System by gravitational interactions with the outer planets. Oort cloud objects move very slowly, and can be perturbed by infrequent events such as collisions, the gravitational effects of a passing star, or the galactic tide, the tidal force exerted by the Milky Way.[99][100]

An artist's rendering of the Oort Cloud, the Hills Cloud, and the Kuiper belt (inset)


Solar System 90377 Sedna (525.86 AU average) is a large, reddish object with a gigantic, highly elliptical orbit that takes it from about 76 AU at perihelion to 928 AU at aphelion and takes 12,050 years to complete. Mike Brown, who discovered the object in 2003, asserts that it cannot be part of the scattered disc or the Kuiper belt as its perihelion is too distant to have been affected by Neptune's migration. He and other astronomers consider it to be the first in an entirely new population, which also may include the object 2000 CR105, which has a perihelion of 45 AU, an aphelion of 415 AU, and an orbital period of 3,420 years.[101] Brown terms this population the "inner Oort cloud", as it may have formed through a similar process, although it is far closer to the Sun.[102] Sedna is very likely a dwarf planet, though its shape has yet to be determined with certainty.


Much of the Solar System is still unknown. The Sun's gravitational field is estimated to dominate the gravitational forces of surrounding stars out to about two light years (125,000 AU). Lower estimates for the radius of the Oort cloud, by contrast, do not place it farther than 50,000 AU.[103] Despite discoveries such as Sedna, the region between the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud, an area tens of thousands of AU in radius, is still virtually unmapped. There are also ongoing studies of the region between Mercury and the Sun.[104] Objects may yet be discovered in the Solar System's uncharted regions.

Galactic context
The Solar System is located in the Milky Way galaxy, a barred spiral galaxy with a diameter of about 100,000 light-years containing about 200 billion stars.[105] The Sun resides in one of the Milky Way's outer spiral arms, known as the Orion–Cygnus Arm or Local Spur.[106] The Sun lies between 25,000 and 28,000 light years from the Galactic Centre,[107] and its speed within the galaxy is about 220 kilometres per second, so that it completes one revolution every 225–250 million years. This revolution is known as the Solar System's galactic year.[108] The solar apex, the direction of the Sun's path through interstellar space, is near the constellation of Hercules in the direction of the current location of the bright star Vega.[109] The plane of the ecliptic lies at an angle of about 60° to the galactic plane.[f]

Location of the Solar System within our galaxy

The Solar System's location in the galaxy is a factor in the evolution of life on Earth. Its orbit is close to circular, and orbits near the Sun are at roughly the same speed as that of the spiral arms. Therefore, the Sun passes through arms only rarely. Since spiral arms are home to a far larger concentration of supernovae, gravitational instabilities, and radiation which could disrupt the Solar System, this has given Earth long periods of stability for life to evolve.[110] The Solar System also lies well outside the star-crowded environs of the galactic centre. Near the centre, gravitational tugs from nearby stars could perturb bodies in the Oort Cloud and send many comets into the inner Solar System, producing collisions with potentially catastrophic implications for life on Earth. The intense radiation of the galactic centre could also interfere with the development of complex life.[110] Even at the Solar System's current location, some scientists have hypothesised that recent supernovae may have adversely affected life in the last 35,000 years by flinging pieces of expelled stellar core towards the Sun as radioactive dust grains and larger, comet-like bodies.[111]

Solar System


The immediate galactic neighbourhood of the Solar System is known as the Local Interstellar Cloud or Local Fluff, an area of denser cloud in an otherwise sparse region known as the Local Bubble, an hourglass-shaped cavity in the interstellar medium roughly 300 light years across. The bubble is suffused with high-temperature plasma that suggests it is the product of several recent supernovae.[112] There are relatively few stars within ten light years (95 trillion km) of the Sun. The closest is the triple star system Alpha Centauri, which is about 4.4 light years away. Alpha Centauri A and B are a closely tied pair of Sun-like stars, while the small red dwarf Alpha Centauri C (also known as Proxima Centauri) orbits the pair at a distance of 0.2 light years. The stars next closest to the Sun are the red dwarfs Barnard's Star (at 5.9 light years), Wolf 359 (7.8 light years) and Lalande 21185 (8.3 light years). The largest star within ten light years is Sirius, a bright main-sequence star roughly twice the Sun's mass and orbited by a white dwarf called Sirius B. It lies 8.6 light years away. The remaining systems within ten light years are the binary red dwarf system Luyten 726-8 (8.7 light years) and the solitary red dwarf Ross 154 (9.7 light years).[113] The Solar System's closest solitary sun-like star is Tau Ceti, which lies 11.9 light years away. It has roughly 80 percent the Sun's mass, but only 60 percent of its luminosity.[114] The closest known extrasolar planet to the Sun lies around the star Epsilon Eridani, a star slightly dimmer and redder than the Sun, which lies 10.5 light years away. Its one confirmed planet, Epsilon Eridani b, is roughly 1.5 times Jupiter's mass and orbits its star every 6.9 years.[115]

A diagram of our location in the observable Universe. (Click here for an alternate image.)

Formation and evolution

The Solar System formed from the gravitational collapse of a giant molecular cloud 4.568 billion years ago.[116] This initial cloud was likely several light-years across and probably birthed several stars.[117] As the region that would become the Solar System, known as the pre-solar nebula,[118] collapsed, conservation of angular momentum made it rotate faster. The centre, where most of the mass collected, became increasingly hotter than the surrounding disc.[117] As the contracting nebula rotated, it began to flatten into a spinning protoplanetary disc with a diameter of roughly 200 AU[117] and a hot, dense protostar at the centre.[119][120] The planets formed by accretion from this disk.[121] Within 50 million years, the pressure and density of hydrogen in the centre of the protostar became great enough for it to begin thermonuclear fusion.[122] The temperature, reaction rate, pressure, and density increased until hydrostatic equilibrium was achieved: the thermal pressure equaled the force of gravity. At this point the Sun became a main-sequence star.[123] The Nice model explains many otherwise puzzling features of the history and structure of the Solar System. In this model, the four giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) originally formed in orbits between ~5.5 and ~17

Solar System astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, (inside the current orbit of Uranus). A disk of planetesimals, of ~35 Earth masses, extended beyond this to ~35 AU. Gravitational interactions between these planets and the planetismal disc caused changes to the planets' orbits. Over a period of several hundred million years, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune migrated outwards, Neptune passing Uranus, while Jupiter migrated a small distance inwards. The Solar System will remain roughly as we know it today until the hydrogen in the core of the Sun has been entirely converted to helium, which will occur roughly 5.4 billion years from now. This will mark the end of the Sun's main-sequence life. At this time, the core of the Sun will collapse, and the energy output will be much greater than at present. The outer layers of the Sun will expand to roughly up to 260 times its current diameter; the Sun will become a red giant. Because of its vastly increased surface area, the surface of the Sun will be considerably cooler than it is on the main sequence (2600 K at the coolest).[124] Eventually, the core will be hot enough for helium fusion to begin in the core; the Sun will burn helium for a fraction of the time it burned hydrogen in the core. The Sun is not massive enough to commence fusion of heavier elements, and nuclear reactions in the core will dwindle. Its outer layers will fall away into space, leaving a white dwarf, an extraordinarily dense object, half the original mass of the Sun but only the size of the Earth.[125] The ejected outer layers will form what is known as a planetary nebula, returning some of the material that formed the Sun—but now enriched with heavier elements like carbon—to the interstellar medium.


Visual summary
A sampling of closely imaged Solar System bodies, selected for size and detail and sorted by volume. The Sun is approximately 10,000 times larger than, and 41 trillion times the volume of, the smallest object shown (Prometheus). Other lists include: List of Solar System objects by size, List of natural satellites, List of minor planets, and Lists of comets.

Solar System















Solar System























a. Capitalization of the name varies. The IAU, the authoritative body regarding astronomical nomenclature, specifies capitalizing the names of all individual astronomical objects [126] (Solar System). However, the name is commonly rendered in lower case (solar system) – as, for example, in the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary [127] b. See List of natural satellites for the full list of natural satellites of the eight planets and five dwarf planets. c. The mass of the Solar System excluding the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn can be determined by adding together all the calculated masses for its largest objects and using rough calculations for the masses of the Oort cloud (estimated at roughly 3 Earth masses),[128] the Kuiper belt (estimated at roughly 0.1 Earth mass)[77] and the asteroid belt (estimated to be 0.0005 Earth mass)[59] for a total, rounded upwards, of ~37 Earth masses, or 8.1 percent the mass in orbit around the Sun. With the combined masses of Uranus and Neptune (~31 Earth masses) subtracted, the remaining ~6 Earth masses of material comprise 1.3 percent of the total. d. Astronomers measure distances within the Solar System in astronomical units (AU). One AU equals the average distance between the centers of Earth and the Sun, or 149,598,000 km. Pluto is about 38 AU from the Sun and Jupiter is about 5.2 AU from the Sun. One light-year is 63,240 AU. e. According to current definitions, objects in orbit around the Sun are classed dynamically and physically into three categories: planets, dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies. A planet is any body in orbit around the Sun

Solar System that has enough mass to form itself into a spherical shape and has cleared its immediate neighbourhood of all smaller objects. By this definition, the Solar System has eight known planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Pluto does not fit this definition, as it has not cleared its orbit of surrounding Kuiper belt objects.[129] A dwarf planet is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity but has not cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite.[129] By this definition, the Solar System has five known dwarf planets: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.[83] Other objects may be classified in the future as dwarf planets, such as Sedna, Orcus, and Quaoar.[130] Dwarf planets that orbit in the trans-Neptunian region are called "plutoids".[131] The remainder of the objects in orbit around the Sun are small Solar System bodies.[129] f. If ψ is the angle between the north pole of the ecliptic and the north galactic pole then: where 27° 07′ 42.01″ and


, 12h 51m 26.282 are the declination and right ascension of the north 18h 0m 00 are those for the north pole of the ecliptic.

galactic pole,


66° 33′ 38.6″ and

(Both pairs of coordinates are for J2000 epoch.) The result of the calculation is 60.19°.

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External links
• Solar System Profile (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=SolarSys&Display=Overview) by NASA's Solar System Exploration (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/index.cfm) • NASA's Solar System Simulator (http://space.jpl.nasa.gov) • NASA/JPL Solar System main page (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/solar_system)



The Sun

Observation data Mean distance from Earth Visual brightness (V) Absolute magnitude Spectral classification Metallicity Angular size Adjectives 1.496 × 108 km 8 min 19 s at light speed −26.74 4.83 [1]


G2V [2] Z = 0.0122 31.6′ – 32.7′ Solar Orbital characteristics [3]

Mean distance from Milky Way core Galactic period Velocity

~2.5 × 1017 km 26000 light-years (2.25–2.50)×108 a ~220 km/s (orbit around the center of the Galaxy) ~20 km/s (relative to average velocity of other stars in stellar neighborhood) [4] ~370 km/s (relative to the cosmic microwave background) Physical characteristics

Mean diameter Equatorial radius

1.392684 × 106 km 6.96342 × 105 km [6] 109 × Earth 4.379 × 106 km [6] 109 × Earth 9 × 10−6 6.0877 × 1012 km2 [6] 11990 × Earth 1.412 × 1018 km3 1300000 × Earth



Equatorial circumference


Flattening Surface area




[1] 1.9891 × 1030 kg [1] 333000 × Earth 1.408 × 103 kg/m3 [1][6][7]


Average density Density

[1] Center (model): 1.622 × 105 kg/m3 Lower photosphere: 2 × 10−4 kg/m3 Lower chromosphere: 5 × 10−6 kg/m3 [8] Corona (avg): 1 × 10−12 kg/m3

Equatorial surface gravity 274.0 m/s2[1] 27.94 g [6] 28 × Earth Escape velocity (from the surface) Temperature [6] 617.7 km/s [6] 55 × Earth [1] Center (modeled): ~1.57 × 107 K [1] Photosphere (effective): 5778 K Corona: ~5 × 106 K [1] 3.846 × 1026 W ~3.75 × 1028 lm ~98 lm/W efficacy 2.009 × 107 W·m−2·sr−1 4.57 billion years [9]

Luminosity (Lsol)

Mean intensity (Isol) Age

Rotation characteristics Obliquity [1] 7.25° (to the ecliptic) 67.23° (to the galactic plane) 286.13° 19 h 4 min 30 s +63.87° 63° 52' North 25.05 days [1]

Right ascension [10] of North pole Declination of North pole Sidereal rotation period (at equator) (at 16° latitude)

[1] 25.38 days [10] 25 d 9 h 7 min 12 s 34.4 days [1] [6]

(at poles) Rotation velocity (at equator)

7.189 × 103 km/h

Photospheric composition (by mass) Hydrogen Helium Oxygen Carbon Iron Neon 73.46% 24.85% 0.77% 0.29% 0.16% 0.12% [11]


Nitrogen Silicon Magnesium Sulfur 0.09% 0.07% 0.05% 0.04%

The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields.[12][13] It has a diameter of about 1,392,684 km[5], about 109 times that of Earth, and its mass (about 2×1030 kilograms, 330,000 times that of Earth) accounts for about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System.[14] Chemically, about three quarters of the Sun's mass consists of hydrogen, while the rest is mostly helium. The remainder (1.69%, which nonetheless equals 5,628 times the mass of Earth) consists of heavier elements, including oxygen, carbon, neon and iron, among others.[15] The Sun's stellar classification, based on spectral class, is G2V, and is informally designated as a yellow dwarf, because its visible radiation is most intense in the yellow-green portion of the spectrum and although its color is white, from the surface of the Earth it may appear yellow because of atmospheric scattering of blue light.[16] In the spectral class label, G2 indicates its surface temperature of approximately 5778 K (5505 °C), and V indicates that the Sun, like most stars, is a main-sequence star, and thus generates its energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. In its core, the Sun fuses 620 million metric tons of hydrogen each second. Once regarded by astronomers as a small and relatively insignificant star, the Sun is now thought to be brighter than about 85% of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy, most of which are red dwarfs.[17][18] The absolute magnitude of the Sun is +4.83; however, as the star closest to Earth, the Sun is the brightest object in the sky with an apparent magnitude of −26.74.[19][20] The Sun's hot corona continuously expands in space creating the solar wind, a stream of charged particles that extends to the heliopause at roughly 100 astronomical units. The bubble in the interstellar medium formed by the solar wind, the heliosphere, is the largest continuous structure in the Solar System.[21][22] The Sun is currently traveling through the Local Interstellar Cloud in the Local Bubble zone, within the inner rim of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Of the 50 nearest stellar systems within 17 light-years from Earth (the closest being a red dwarf named Proxima Centauri at approximately 4.2 light-years away), the Sun ranks fourth in mass.[23] The Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way at a distance of approximately 24000–26000 light-years from the galactic center, completing one clockwise orbit, as viewed from the galactic north pole, in about 225–250 million years. Since our galaxy is moving with respect to the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) in the direction of the constellation Hydra with a speed of 550 km/s, the Sun's resultant velocity with respect to the CMB is about 370 km/s in the direction of Crater or Leo.[24] The mean distance of the Sun from the Earth is approximately 149.6 million kilometers (1 AU), though the distance varies as the Earth moves from perihelion in January to aphelion in July.[25] At this average distance, light travels from the Sun to Earth in about 8 minutes and 19 seconds. The energy of this sunlight supports almost all life on Earth by photosynthesis,[26] and drives Earth's climate and weather. The enormous effect of the Sun on the Earth has been recognized since prehistoric times, and the Sun has been regarded by some cultures as a deity. An accurate scientific understanding of the Sun developed slowly, and as recently as the 19th century prominent scientists had little knowledge of the Sun's physical composition and source of energy. This understanding is still developing; there are a number of present-day anomalies in the Sun's behavior that remain unexplained.



Name and etymology
The English proper noun Sun developed from Old English sunne (around 725, attested in Beowulf), and may be related to south. Cognates to English sun appear in other Germanic languages, including Old Frisian sunne, sonne ("sun"), Old Saxon sunna, Middle Dutch sonne, modern Dutch zon, Old High German sunna, modern German Sonne, Old Norse sunna, and Gothic sunnō. All Germanic terms for the Sun stem from Proto-Germanic *sunnōn.[27][28] In relation, the Sun is personified as a goddess in Germanic paganism; Sól/Sunna.[28] Scholars theorize that the Sun, as Germanic goddess, may represent an extension of an earlier Proto-Indo-European sun deity due to Indo-European linguistic connections between Old Norse Sól, Sanskrit Surya, Gaulish Sulis, Lithuanian Saulė, and Slavic Solntse.[28] The English weekday name Sunday is attested in Old English (Sunnandæg; "Sun's day", from before 700) and is ultimately a result of a Germanic interpretation of Latin dies solis, itself a translation of the Greek heméra helíou.[29] The Latin name for the star, Sol, is widely known but is not common in general English language use; the adjectival form is the related word solar.[30][31] The term sol is also used by planetary astronomers to refer to the duration of a solar day on another planet, such as Mars.[32] A mean Earth solar day is approximately 24 hours, while a mean Martian 'sol' is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds.[33]

The Sun is a G-type main-sequence star comprising about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System. It is a near-perfect sphere, with an oblateness estimated at about 9 millionths,[34] which means that its polar diameter differs from its equatorial diameter by only 10 km. As the Sun consists of a plasma and is not solid, it rotates faster at its equator than at its poles. This behavior is known as differential rotation, and is caused by convection in the Sun and the movement of mass, due to steep temperature gradients from the core outwards. This mass carries a portion of the Sun’s counter-clockwise angular momentum, as viewed from the ecliptic north pole, thus redistributing the angular velocity. The period of this actual rotation is approximately 25.6 days at the equator and 33.5 days at the poles. However, due to our constantly changing vantage point from the Earth as it orbits the Sun, the apparent rotation of the star at its equator is about 28 days.[35] The centrifugal effect of this slow rotation is 18 million times weaker than the surface gravity at the Sun's equator.

In this false-color ultraviolet image, the Sun shows a C3-class solar flare (white area on upper left), a solar tsunami (wave-like structure, upper right) and multiple filaments of plasma following a magnetic field, rising from the stellar surface.


27 The tidal effect of the planets is even weaker, and does not significantly affect the shape of the Sun.[36] The Sun is a Population I, or heavy element-rich,[37] star.[38] The formation of the Sun may have been triggered by shockwaves from one or more nearby supernovae.[39] This is suggested by a high abundance of heavy elements in the Solar System, such as gold and uranium, relative to the abundances of these elements in so-called Population II (heavy element-poor) stars. These elements could most plausibly have been produced by endergonic nuclear reactions during a supernova, or by transmutation through neutron absorption inside a massive second-generation star.[38] The Sun does not have a definite boundary as rocky planets do, and in its outer parts the density of its gases drops exponentially with increasing distance from its center.[40] Nevertheless, it has a well-defined interior structure, described below. The Sun's radius is measured from its center to the edge of the photosphere. This is simply the layer above which the gases are too cool or too thin to radiate a significant amount of light, and is therefore the surface most readily visible to the naked eye.[35]

An illustration of the structure of the Sun: 1. Core 2. Radiative zone 3. Convective zone 4. Photosphere 5. Chromosphere 6. Corona 7. Sunspot 8. Granules 9. Prominence.

The solar interior is not directly observable, This video takes SDO images and applies additional processing to enhance the and the Sun itself is opaque to structures visible.The events in this video represent 24 hours of activity on September 25, 2011. electromagnetic radiation. However, just as seismology uses waves generated by earthquakes to reveal the interior structure of the Earth, the discipline of helioseismology makes use of pressure waves (infrasound) traversing the Sun's interior to measure and visualize the star's inner structure.[35] Computer modeling of the Sun is also used as a theoretical tool to investigate its deeper layers.



The core of the Sun is considered to extend from the center to about 20–25% of the solar radius.[41] It has a density of up to 150 g/cm3[42][43] (about 150 times the density of water) and a temperature of close to 15.7 million kelvin (K). By contrast, the Sun's surface temperature is approximately 5,800 K. Recent analysis of SOHO mission data favors a faster rotation rate in the core than in the rest of the radiative zone.[41] Through most of the Sun's life, energy is produced by nuclear fusion through a series of steps called the p–p (proton–proton) chain; this process converts hydrogen into helium.[44] Only 0.8% of the energy generated in the Sun comes from the CNO

Cross-section of a solar-type star (NASA)

cycle.[45] The core is the only region in the Sun that produces an appreciable amount of thermal energy through fusion; inside 24% of the Sun's radius, 99% of the power has been generated, and by 30% of the radius, fusion has stopped nearly entirely. The rest of the star is heated by energy that is transferred outward from the core and the layers just outside. The energy produced by fusion in the core must then travel through many successive layers to the solar photosphere before it escapes into space as sunlight or kinetic energy of particles.[40][35] The proton–proton chain occurs around 9.2 × 1037 times each second in the core of the Sun. Since this reaction uses four free protons (hydrogen nuclei), it converts about 3.7×1038 protons to alpha particles (helium nuclei) every second (out of a total of ~8.9×1056 free protons in the Sun), or about 6.2×1011 kg per second.[35] Since fusing hydrogen into helium releases around 0.7% of the fused mass as energy,[46] the Sun releases energy at the mass-energy conversion rate of 4.26 million metric tons per second, 384.6 yotta watts (3.846 × 1026 W),[1] or 9.192×1010 megatons of TNT per second. This mass is not destroyed to create the energy, rather, the mass is carried away in the radiated energy, as described by the concept of mass-energy equivalence. The power production by fusion in the core varies with distance from the solar center. At the center of the Sun, theoretical models estimate it to be approximately 276.5 watts/m3,[47] a power production density that more nearly approximates reptile metabolism than a thermonuclear bomb.[48] Peak power production in the Sun has been compared to the volumetric heats generated in an active compost heap. The tremendous power output of the Sun is not due to its high power per volume, but instead due to its large size. The fusion rate in the core is in a self-correcting equilibrium: a slightly higher rate of fusion would cause the core to heat up more and expand slightly against the weight of the outer layers, reducing the fusion rate and correcting the perturbation; and a slightly lower rate would cause the core to cool and shrink slightly, increasing the fusion rate and again reverting it to its present level.[49][50] The gamma rays (high-energy photons) released in fusion reactions are absorbed in only a few millimeters of solar plasma and then re-emitted again in random direction and at slightly lower energy. Therefore it takes a long time for radiation to reach the Sun's surface. Estimates of the photon travel time range between 10,000 and 170,000 years.[51] In contrast, it takes only 2.3 seconds for the neutrinos, which account for about 2% of the total energy production of the Sun, to reach the surface. Since energy transport in the Sun is a process which involves photons in thermodynamic equilibrium with matter, the time scale of energy transport in the Sun is longer, on the order of

Sun 30,000,000 years. This is the time it would take the Sun to return to a stable state if the rate of energy generation in its core were suddenly to be changed.[52] After a final trip through the convective outer layer to the transparent surface of the photosphere, the photons escape as visible light. Each gamma ray in the Sun's core is converted into several million photons of visible light before escaping into space. Neutrinos are also released by the fusion reactions in the core, but unlike photons they rarely interact with matter, so almost all are able to escape the Sun immediately. For many years measurements of the number of neutrinos produced in the Sun were lower than theories predicted by a factor of 3. This discrepancy was resolved in 2001 through the discovery of the effects of neutrino oscillation: the Sun emits the number of neutrinos predicted by the theory, but neutrino detectors were missing 2⁄3 of them because the neutrinos had changed flavor by the time they were detected.[53]


Radiative zone
Below about 0.7 solar radii, solar material is hot and dense enough that thermal radiation is sufficient to transfer the intense heat of the core outward.[54] This zone is free of thermal convection; while the material gets cooler from 7 to about 2 million kelvin with increasing altitude, this temperature gradient is less than the value of the adiabatic lapse rate and hence cannot drive convection.[43] Energy is transferred by radiation—ions of hydrogen and helium emit photons, which travel only a brief distance before being reabsorbed by other ions.[54] The density drops a hundredfold (from 20 g/cm3 to only 0.2 g/cm3) from 0.25 solar radii to the top of the radiative zone.[54] The radiative zone and the convection form a transition layer, the tachocline. This is a region where the sharp regime change between the uniform rotation of the radiative zone and the differential rotation of the convection zone results in a large shear—a condition where successive horizontal layers slide past one another.[55] The fluid motions found in the convection zone above, slowly disappear from the top of this layer to its bottom, matching the calm characteristics of the radiative zone on the bottom. Presently, it is hypothesized (see Solar dynamo), that a magnetic dynamo within this layer generates the Sun's magnetic field.[43]

Convective zone
In the Sun's outer layer, from its surface down to approximately 200,000 km (or 70% of the solar radius), the solar plasma is not dense enough or hot enough to transfer the thermal energy of the interior outward through radiation; in other words it is opaque enough. As a result, thermal convection occurs as thermal columns carry hot material to the surface (photosphere) of the Sun. Once the material cools off at the surface, it plunges downward to the base of the convection zone, to receive more heat from the top of the radiative zone. At the visible surface of the Sun, the temperature has dropped to 5,700 K and the density to only 0.2 g/m3 (about 1/6,000th the density of air at sea level).[43] The thermal columns in the convection zone form an imprint on the surface of the Sun as the solar granulation and supergranulation. The turbulent convection of this outer part of the solar interior causes a "small-scale" dynamo that produces magnetic north and south poles all over the surface of the Sun.[43] The Sun's thermal columns are Bénard cells and therefore tend to be hexagonal prisms.[56]



The visible surface of the Sun, the photosphere, is the layer below which the Sun becomes opaque to visible light.[57] Above the photosphere visible sunlight is free to propagate into space, and its energy escapes the Sun entirely. The change in opacity is due to the decreasing amount of H− ions, which absorb visible light easily.[57] Conversely, the visible light we see is produced as electrons react with hydrogen atoms to produce H− ions.[58][59] The photosphere is tens to hundreds of kilometers thick, being slightly less opaque than air on Earth. Because the upper part of the photosphere is cooler than the The effective temperature, or black body lower part, an image of the Sun appears brighter in the center than on temperature, of the Sun (5777 K) is the the edge or limb of the solar disk, in a phenomenon known as limb temperature a black body of the same size must have to yield the same total emissive power. darkening.[57] Sunlight has approximately a black-body spectrum that indicates its temperature is about 6,000 K, interspersed with atomic absorption lines from the tenuous layers above the photosphere. The photosphere has a particle density of ~1023 m−3 (this is about 0.37% of the particle number per volume of Earth's atmosphere at sea level; however, photosphere particles are electrons and protons, so the average particle in air is 58 times as heavy).[54] During early studies of the optical spectrum of the photosphere, some absorption lines were found that did not correspond to any chemical elements then known on Earth. In 1868, Norman Lockyer hypothesized that these absorption lines were because of a new element which he dubbed helium, after the Greek Sun god Helios. It was not until 25 years later that helium was isolated on Earth.[60]

The parts of the Sun above the photosphere are referred to collectively as the solar atmosphere.[57] They can be viewed with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio through visible light to gamma rays, and comprise five principal zones: the temperature minimum, the chromosphere, the transition region, the corona, and the heliosphere.[57] The heliosphere, which may be considered the tenuous outer atmosphere of the Sun, extends outward past the orbit of Pluto to the heliopause, where it forms a sharp shock front boundary with the interstellar medium. The chromosphere, transition region, and corona are much hotter than the surface of the Sun.[57] The reason has not been conclusively proven; evidence suggests that Alfvén waves may have enough energy to heat the corona.[61]

During a total solar eclipse, the solar corona can be seen with the naked eye, during the brief period of totality.

The coolest layer of the Sun is a temperature minimum region about 500 km above the photosphere, with a temperature of about 4100 K.[57] This part of the Sun is cool enough to support simple molecules such as carbon monoxide and water, which can be detected by their absorption spectra.[62] Above the temperature minimum layer is a layer about 2000 km thick, dominated by a spectrum of emission and absorption lines.[57] It is called the chromosphere from the Greek root chroma, meaning color, because the chromosphere is visible as a colored flash at the beginning and end of total eclipses of the Sun.[54] The temperature in the chromosphere increases gradually with altitude, ranging up to around 20000 K near the top.[57] In the upper part of chromosphere helium becomes partially ionized.[63]


31 Above the chromosphere, in a thin (about 200 km) transition region, the temperature rises rapidly from around 20,000 K in the upper chromosphere to coronal temperatures closer to 1,000,000 K.[64] The temperature increase is facilitated by the full ionization of helium in the transition region, which significantly reduces radiative cooling of the plasma.[63] The transition region does not occur at a well-defined altitude. Rather, it forms a kind of nimbus around chromospheric features such as spicules and filaments, and is in constant, chaotic motion.[54] The transition region is not easily visible from Earth's surface, but is readily observable from space by

Taken by Hinode's Solar Optical Telescope on January 12, 2007, this image of the Sun reveals the filamentary nature of the plasma connecting regions of different magnetic polarity.

instruments sensitive to the extreme ultraviolet portion of the spectrum.[65] The corona is the extended outer atmosphere of the Sun, which is much larger in volume than the Sun itself. The corona continuously expands into space forming the solar wind, which fills all the Solar System.[66] The low corona, near the surface of the Sun, has a particle density around 1015–1016 m−3.[63][67] The average temperature of the corona and solar wind is about 1,000,000–2,000,000 K; however, in the hottest regions it is 8,000,000–20,000,000 K.[64] While no complete theory yet exists to account for the temperature of the corona, at least some of its heat is known to be from magnetic reconnection.[64][66] The heliosphere, which is the cavity around the Sun filled with the solar wind plasma, extends from approximately 20 solar radii (0.1 AU) to the outer fringes of the Solar System. Its inner boundary is defined as the layer in which the flow of the solar wind becomes superalfvénic—that is, where the flow becomes faster than the speed of Alfvén waves.[68] Turbulence and dynamic forces outside this boundary cannot affect the shape of the solar corona within, because the information can only travel at the speed of Alfvén waves. The solar wind travels outward continuously through the heliosphere, forming the solar magnetic field into a spiral shape,[66] until it impacts the heliopause more than 50 AU from the Sun. In December 2004, the Voyager 1 probe passed through a shock front that is thought to be part of the heliopause. Both of the Voyager probes have recorded higher levels of energetic particles as they approach the boundary.[69]



Magnetic field
The Sun is a magnetically active star. It supports a strong, changing magnetic field that varies year-to-year and reverses direction about every eleven years around solar maximum.[40] The Sun's magnetic field leads to many effects that are collectively called solar activity, including sunspots on the surface of the Sun, solar flares, and variations in solar wind that carry material through the Solar System.[40] Effects of solar activity on Earth include auroras at moderate to high latitudes, and the disruption of radio communications and electric power. Solar activity is thought to have played a large role in the formation and evolution of the Solar System. Solar activity changes the structure of Earth's outer atmosphere.[35]

All matter in the Sun is in the form of gas and plasma because of its high temperatures. This makes it possible for the Sun to rotate faster at its equator (about 25 days) than it does at higher latitudes (about 35 days near its poles). The differential rotation of the Sun's latitudes causes its magnetic field lines to become twisted together over time, causing magnetic field loops to erupt from the Sun's surface and trigger the formation of the Sun's dramatic sunspots and solar prominences (see magnetic reconnection). This twisting action creates the solar dynamo and an 11-year solar cycle of magnetic activity as the Sun's magnetic field reverses itself about every 11 years.[71][72] The solar magnetic field extends well beyond the Sun itself. The magnetized solar wind plasma carries Sun's magnetic field into the space forming what is called the interplanetary magnetic field.[66] Since the plasma can only move along the magnetic field lines, the interplanetary magnetic field is initially stretched radially away from the Sun. Because the fields above and below the solar equator have different polarities pointing towards and away from the Sun, there exists a thin current layer in the solar equatorial plane, which is called the heliospheric current sheet.[66] At the large distances the rotation of the Sun twists the magnetic field and the current sheet into the Archimedean spiral like structure called the Parker spiral.[66] The interplanetary magnetic field is much stronger than the dipole component of the solar magnetic field. The Sun's 50–400 μT (in the photosphere) magnetic dipole field reduces with the cube of the distance to about 0.1 nT at the distance of the Earth. However, according to spacecraft observations the interplanetary field at the Earth's location is about 100 times greater at around 5 nT.[73]

The heliospheric current sheet extends to the outer reaches of the Solar System, and results from the influence of the Sun's rotating magnetic field on the plasma in the interplanetary [70] medium.

Chemical composition
The Sun is composed primarily of the chemical elements hydrogen and helium; they account for 74.9% and 23.8% of the mass of the Sun in the photosphere, respectively.[74] All heavier elements, called metals in astronomy, account for less than 2% of the mass. The most abundant metals are oxygen (roughly 1% of the Sun's mass), carbon (0.3%), neon (0.2%), and iron (0.2%).[75] The Sun inherited its chemical composition from the interstellar medium out of which it formed: the hydrogen and helium in the Sun were produced by Big Bang nucleosynthesis. The metals were produced by stellar nucleosynthesis in generations of stars which completed their stellar evolution and returned their material to the interstellar medium before the formation of the Sun.[76] The chemical composition of the photosphere is normally considered representative of the composition of the primordial Solar System.[77] However, since the Sun formed, the helium and heavy elements have settled out of the photosphere. Therefore, the photosphere now contains slightly less helium and only 84% of the heavy elements than the protostellar Sun did; the protostellar Sun was 71.1% hydrogen, 27.4% helium, and 1.5% metals.[74]

Sun In the inner portions of the Sun, nuclear fusion has modified the composition by converting hydrogen into helium, so the innermost portion of the Sun is now roughly 60% helium, with the metal abundance unchanged. Because the interior of the Sun is radiative, not convective (see Radiative zone above), none of the fusion products from the core have risen to the photosphere.[78] The solar heavy-element abundances described above are typically measured both using spectroscopy of the Sun's photosphere and by measuring abundances in meteorites that have never been heated to melting temperatures. These meteorites are thought to retain the composition of the protostellar Sun and thus not affected by settling of heavy elements. The two methods generally agree well.[15]


Singly ionized iron group elements
In the 1970s, much research focused on the abundances of iron group elements in the Sun.[79][80] Although significant research was done, the abundance determination of some iron group elements (e.g., cobalt and manganese) was still difficult at least as far as 1978 because of their hyperfine structures.[79] The first largely complete set of oscillator strengths of singly ionized iron group elements were made available first in the 1960s,[81] and improved oscillator strengths were computed in 1976.[82] In 1978 the abundances of 'Singly Ionized' elements of the iron group were derived.[79]

Solar and planetary mass fractionation relationship
Various authors have considered the existence of a mass fractionation relationship between the isotopic compositions of solar and planetary noble gases,[83] for example correlations between isotopic compositions of planetary and solar neon and xenon.[84] Nevertheless, the belief that the whole Sun has the same composition as the solar atmosphere was still widespread, at least until 1983.[85] In 1983, it was claimed that it was the fractionation in the Sun itself that caused the fractionation relationship between the isotopic compositions of planetary and solar wind implanted noble gases.[85]

Solar cycles
Sunspots and the sunspot cycle
When observing the Sun with appropriate filtration, the most immediately visible features are usually its sunspots, which are well-defined surface areas that appear darker than their surroundings because of lower temperatures. Sunspots are regions of intense magnetic activity where convection is inhibited by strong magnetic fields, reducing energy transport from the hot interior to the surface. The magnetic field causes strong heating in the corona, forming active regions that are the source of intense solar flares and coronal mass ejections. The largest sunspots can be tens of thousands of kilometers across.[86]

Measurements of solar cycle variation during the last 30 years

The number of sunspots visible on the Sun is not constant, but varies over an 11-year cycle known as the solar cycle. At a typical solar minimum, few sunspots are visible, and occasionally none at all can be seen. Those that do appear are at high solar latitudes. As the sunspot cycle progresses, the number of sunspots increases and they move closer to the equator of the Sun, a phenomenon described by Spörer's law. Sunspots usually exist as pairs with opposite magnetic polarity. The magnetic polarity of the leading sunspot alternates every solar cycle, so that it will be a north magnetic pole in one solar cycle and a south magnetic pole in the next.[87]


34 The solar cycle has a great influence on space weather, and a significant influence on the Earth's climate since the Sun's luminosity has a direct relationship with magnetic activity.[88] Solar activity minima tend to be correlated with colder temperatures, and longer than average solar cycles tend to be correlated with hotter temperatures. In the 17th century, the solar cycle appeared to have stopped entirely for several decades; few sunspots were observed during this period. During this era, known as the Maunder minimum or Little Ice Age, Europe experienced unusually cold temperatures.[89] Earlier extended minima have been discovered through analysis of tree rings and appear to have coincided with lower-than-average global temperatures.[90]

History of the number of observed sunspots during the last 250 years, which shows the ~11-year solar cycle

Possible long-term cycle
A recent theory claims that there are magnetic instabilities in the core of the Sun that cause fluctuations with periods of either 41,000 or 100,000 years. These could provide a better explanation of the ice ages than the Milankovitch cycles.[91][92]

Life cycle
The Sun was formed about 4.57 billion years ago from the collapse of part of a giant molecular cloud that consisted mostly of hydrogen and helium and which probably gave birth to many other stars.[40] This age is estimated using computer models of stellar evolution and through [9] nucleocosmochronology. The result is consistent with the radiometric date of the oldest Solar System material, at 4.567 billion years ago.[94][95] Studies of ancient meteorites reveal traces of stable daughter nuclei of short-lived isotopes, such as iron-60, that only form Evolution of the Sun's luminosity, radius and effective temperature compared to the [93] present Sun. After Ribas (2010) in exploding, short-lived stars. This indicates that one or more supernovae must have occurred near the location where the Sun formed. A shock wave from a nearby supernova would have triggered the formation of the Sun by compressing the gases within the molecular cloud, and causing certain regions to collapse under their own gravity.[96] As one fragment of the cloud collapsed it also began to rotate due to conservation of angular momentum and heat up with the increasing pressure. Much of the mass became concentrated in the center, while the rest flattened out into a disk which would become the planets and other solar system bodies. Gravity and pressure within the core of the cloud generated a lot of heat as it accreted more gas from the surrounding disk, eventually triggering nuclear fusion. Thus, our Sun was born. The Sun is about halfway through its main-sequence stage, during which nuclear fusion reactions in its core fuse hydrogen into helium. Each second, more than four million tonnes of matter are converted into energy within the

Sun Sun's core, producing neutrinos and solar radiation. At this rate, the Sun has so far converted around 100 Earth-masses of matter into energy. The Sun will spend a total of approximately 10 billion years as a main-sequence star.[97] The Sun does not have enough mass to explode as a supernova. Instead, in about 5 billion years, it will enter a red giant phase. Its outer layers will expand as the hydrogen fuel at the core is consumed and the core will contract and heat up. Hydrogen fusion will continue along a shell surrounding a helium core, which will steadily expand as more helium is produced. Once the core temperature reaches around 100 million kelvin, helium fusion at the core will begin producing carbon, and the Sun will enter the asymptotic giant branch phase.[38] Following the red giant phase, intense thermal pulsations will cause the Sun to throw off its outer layers, forming a planetary nebula. The only object that will remain after the outer layers are ejected is the extremely hot stellar core, which will slowly cool and fade as a white dwarf over many billions of years. This stellar evolution scenario is typical of low- to medium-mass stars.[98][99]


Earth's fate
Earth's ultimate fate is precarious. As a red giant, the Sun will have a maximum radius beyond the Earth's current orbit, 1 AU (expected operatorexpected operatorexpected operatorexpected operatorexpected operatorexpected operatorexpected operatorexpected operatorexpected operatorexpected operatorexpected operatorexpected operatorexpected operatorexpected operator×1011 m), 250 times the present radius of the Sun.[100] However, by the time it is an asymptotic giant branch star, the Sun will have lost roughly 30% of its present mass due to a stellar wind, so the orbits of the planets will move outward. If it were only for this, Earth would probably be spared, but new research suggests that Earth will be swallowed by the Sun owing to tidal interactions.[100] Even if Earth should escape incineration in the Sun, still all its water will be boiled away and most of its atmosphere will escape into space. Even during its current life in the main sequence, the Sun is gradually becoming more luminous (about 10% every 1 billion years), and its surface temperature is slowly rising. The Sun used to be fainter in the past, which is possibly the reason life on Earth has only existed for about 1 billion years on land. The increase in solar temperatures is such that in about another billion years the surface of the Earth will likely become too hot for liquid water to exist, ending all terrestrial life.[100][101]

Life-cycle of the Sun; sizes are not drawn to scale.



Sunlight is Earth's primary source of energy. The solar constant is the amount of power that the Sun deposits per unit area that is directly exposed to sunlight. The solar constant is equal to approximately 1368 W/m2 (watts per square meter) at a distance of one astronomical unit (AU) from the Sun (that is, on or near Earth).[102] Sunlight on the surface of Earth is attenuated by the Earth's atmosphere so that less power arrives at the surface—closer to 1000 W/m2 in clear conditions when the Sun is near the zenith.[103] Solar energy can be harnessed by a variety of natural and synthetic processes—photosynthesis by plants captures the energy of sunlight and converts it to chemical form (oxygen and reduced carbon compounds), while direct heating or electrical conversion by solar cells are used by solar power equipment to generate electricity or to do other useful work, sometimes employing concentrating solar power (that it is measured in suns). The energy stored in petroleum and other fossil fuels was originally converted from sunlight by photosynthesis in the distant past.[35]

Comparison of the Sun's apparent size, as seen from the vicinity of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto

The Sun appearing at sunrise on Earth

The Sun disappearing at sunset on Earth



Motion and location within the galaxy
The Sun lies close to the inner rim of the Milky Way Galaxy's Orion Arm, in the Local Fluff or the Gould Belt, at a hypothesized distance of 7.5–8.5 kpc (25,000–28,000 lightyears) from the Galactic Center,[104][105][106][107] contained within the Local Bubble, a space of rarefied hot gas, possibly produced by the supernova remnant, Geminga.[108] The distance between the local arm and the next arm out, the Perseus Arm, is about 6,500 light-years.[109] The Sun, and thus the Solar System, is found in what scientists call the galactic habitable zone. The Apex of the Sun's Way, or the solar apex, is the direction that the Sun travels through space in the Milky Way, relative to other nearby stars. The general direction of the Sun's galactic motion is towards the star Vega in the constellation of Lyra at an angle of roughly 60 sky degrees to the direction of the Galactic Center.

Motion of the barycenter of the Solar System relative to the Sun

The Sun's orbit around the Galaxy is expected to be roughly elliptical with the addition of perturbations due to the galactic spiral arms and non-uniform mass distributions. In addition the Sun oscillates up and down relative to the galactic plane approximately 2.7 times per orbit. It has been argued that the Sun's passage through the higher density spiral arms often coincides with mass extinctions on Earth, perhaps due to increased impact events.[110] It takes the Solar System about 225–250 million years to complete one orbit of the galaxy (a galactic year),[111] so it is thought to have completed 20–25 orbits during the lifetime of the Sun. The orbital speed of the Solar System about the center of the Galaxy is approximately 251 km/s.[112] At this speed, it takes around 1,190 years for the Solar System to travel a distance of 1 light-year, or 7 days to travel 1 AU.[113] The Sun's motion about the centre of mass of the Solar System is complicated by perturbations from the planets. Every few hundred years this motion switches between prograde and retrograde.[114]

Theoretical problems
Solar neutrino problem
For many years the number of solar electron neutrinos detected on Earth was 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 of the number predicted by the standard solar model. This anomalous result was termed the solar neutrino problem. Theories proposed to resolve the problem either tried to reduce the temperature of the Sun's interior to explain the lower neutrino flux, or posited that electron neutrinos could oscillate—that is, change into undetectable tau and muon neutrinos as they traveled between the Sun and the Earth.[115] Several neutrino observatories were built in the 1980s to measure the solar neutrino flux as accurately as possible, including the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Canada and the Kamiokande laboratory in Japan.[116] Results from these observatories eventually led to the discovery that neutrinos have a very small rest mass and do indeed oscillate.[117][53] Moreover, in 2001 the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory was able to detect all three types of neutrinos directly, and found that the Sun's total neutrino emission rate agreed with the Standard Solar Model, although depending on the neutrino energy as few as one-third of the neutrinos seen at Earth are of the electron type.[116][118] This proportion agrees with that predicted by the Mikheyev–Smirnov–Wolfenstein effect (also known as the matter effect), which describes neutrino oscillation in matter, and it is now considered a solved problem.[116]



Coronal heating problem
The optical surface of the Sun (the photosphere) is known to have a temperature of approximately 6,000 K. Above it lies the solar corona, rising to a temperature of 1,000,000–2,000,000 K.[64] The high temperature of the corona shows that it is heated by something other than direct heat conduction from the photosphere.[66] It is thought that the energy necessary to heat the corona is provided by turbulent motion in the convection zone below the photosphere, and two main mechanisms have been proposed to explain coronal heating.[64] The first is wave heating, in which sound, gravitational or magnetohydrodynamic waves are produced by turbulence in the convection zone.[64] These waves travel upward and dissipate in the corona, depositing their energy in the ambient gas in the form of heat.[119] The other is magnetic heating, in which magnetic energy is continuously built up by photospheric motion and released through magnetic reconnection in the form of large solar flares and myriad similar but smaller events—nanoflares.[120] Currently, it is unclear whether waves are an efficient heating mechanism. All waves except Alfvén waves have been found to dissipate or refract before reaching the corona.[121] In addition, Alfvén waves do not easily dissipate in the corona. Current research focus has therefore shifted towards flare heating mechanisms.[64]

Faint young Sun problem
Theoretical models of the Sun's development suggest that 3.8 to 2.5 billion years ago, during the Archean period, the Sun was only about 75% as bright as it is today. Such a weak star would not have been able to sustain liquid water on the Earth's surface, and thus life should not have been able to develop. However, the geological record demonstrates that the Earth has remained at a fairly constant temperature throughout its history, and that the young Earth was somewhat warmer than it is today. The consensus among scientists is that the young Earth's atmosphere contained much larger quantities of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, methane and/or ammonia) than are present today, which trapped enough heat to compensate for the smaller amount of solar energy reaching the planet.[122]

Present anomalies
The Sun is currently behaving unexpectedly in a number of ways.[123][124] • It is in the midst of an unusual sunspot minimum, lasting far longer and with a higher percentage of spotless days than normal; since May 2008. • It is measurably dimming; its output has dropped 0.02% at visible wavelengths and 6% at EUV wavelengths in comparison with the levels at the last solar minimum.[125] • Over the last two decades, the solar wind's speed has dropped by 3%, its temperature by 13%, and its density by 20%.[126] • Its magnetic field is at less than half strength compared to the minimum of 22 years ago. The entire heliosphere, which fills the Solar System, has shrunk as a result, thereby increasing the level of cosmic radiation striking the Earth and its atmosphere.



History of observation
Early understanding
Like other natural phenomena, the Sun has been an object of veneration in many cultures throughout human history. Humanity's most fundamental understanding of the Sun is as the luminous disk in the sky, whose presence above the horizon creates day and whose absence causes night. In many prehistoric and ancient cultures, the Sun was thought to be a solar deity or other supernatural phenomenon. Worship of the Sun was central to civilizations such as the Inca of South America and the Aztecs of what is now Mexico. Many ancient monuments were constructed with solar phenomena in mind; for The Trundholm Sun chariot pulled by a horse is a sculpture believed to be illustrating an important example, stone megaliths accurately mark the summer or winter part of Nordic Bronze Age mythology. The solstice (some of the most prominent megaliths are located in Nabta sculpture is probably from around 1350 BC. It is Playa, Egypt; Mnajdra, Malta and at Stonehenge, England); displayed at the National Museum of Denmark. Newgrange, a prehistoric human-built mount in Ireland, was designed to detect the winter solstice; the pyramid of El Castillo at Chichén Itzá in Mexico is designed to cast shadows in the shape of serpents climbing the pyramid at the vernal and autumn equinoxes. In the late Roman Empire the Sun's birthday was a holiday celebrated as Sol Invictus (literally "unconquered sun") soon after the winter solstice which may have been an antecedent to Christmas. Regarding the fixed stars, the Sun appears from Earth to revolve once a year along the ecliptic through the zodiac, and so Greek astronomers considered it to be one of the seven planets (Greek planetes, "wanderer"), after which the seven days of the week are named in some languages.[127][128][129]

Development of scientific understanding
In the early first millennium BCE, Babylonian astronomers observed that the Sun's motion along the ecliptic was not uniform, though they were unaware of why this was; it is today known that this is due to the Earth moving in an elliptic orbit around the Sun, with the Earth moving faster when it is nearer to the Sun at perihelion and moving slower when it is farther away at aphelion.[130] One of the first people to offer a scientific or philosophical explanation Since the discovery of sunspots by Galileo in for the Sun was the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras, who reasoned that 1609, we have continued to study the Sun. it was a giant flaming ball of metal even larger than the Peloponnesus rather than the chariot of Helios, and that the Moon reflected the light of the Sun.[131] For teaching this heresy, he was imprisoned by the authorities and sentenced to death, though he was later released through the intervention of Pericles. Eratosthenes estimated the distance between the Earth and the Sun in the 3rd century BCE as "of stadia myriads 400 and 80000", the translation of which is ambiguous, implying either 4,080,000 stadia (755,000 km) or 804,000,000 stadia (148 to 153 million kilometers or 0.99 to 1.02 AU); the latter value is correct to within a few percent. In the 1st century CE, Ptolemy estimated the distance as 1,210 times the Earth radius, approximately 7.71 million kilometers (unknown operator: u'strong' AU).[132] The theory that the Sun is the center around which the planets move was first proposed by the ancient Greek Aristarchus of Samos in the 3rd century BCE, and later adopted by Seleucus of Seleucia (see Heliocentrism). This largely philosophical view was developed into fully predictive mathematical model of a heliocentric system in the 16th century by Nicolaus Copernicus. In the early 17th century, the invention of the telescope permitted detailed

Sun observations of sunspots by Thomas Harriot, Galileo Galilei and other astronomers. Galileo made some of the first known telescopic observations of sunspots and posited that they were on the surface of the Sun rather than small objects passing between the Earth and the Sun.[133] Sunspots were also observed since the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) by Chinese astronomers who maintained records of these observations for centuries. Averroes also provided a description of sunspots in the 12th century.[134] Arabic astronomical contributions include Albatenius discovering that the direction of the Sun's eccentric is changing,[135] and Ibn Yunus observing more than 10,000 entries for the Sun's position for many years using a large astrolabe.[136] The transit of Venus was first observed in 1032 by Persian astronomer and polymath Avicenna, who concluded that Venus is closer to the Earth than the Sun,[137] while one of the first observations of the transit of Mercury was conducted by Ibn Bajjah in the 12th century.[138] In 1672 Giovanni Cassini and Jean Richer determined the distance to Mars and were thereby able to calculate the distance to the Sun. Isaac Newton observed the Sun's light using a prism, and showed that it was made up of light of many colors,[139] while in 1800 William Herschel Sol, the Sun, from a 1550 edition of Guido discovered infrared radiation beyond the red part of the solar [140] Bonatti's Liber astronomiae. spectrum. The 19th century saw advancement in spectroscopic studies of the Sun; Joseph von Fraunhofer recorded more than 600 absorption lines in the spectrum, the strongest of which are still often referred to as Fraunhofer lines. In the early years of the modern scientific era, the source of the Sun's energy was a significant puzzle. Lord Kelvin suggested that the Sun was a gradually cooling liquid body that was radiating an internal store of heat.[141] Kelvin and Hermann von Helmholtz then proposed a gravitational contraction mechanism to explain the energy output. Unfortunately the resulting age estimate was only 20 million years, well short of the time span of at least 300 million years suggested by some geological discoveries of that time.[141] In 1890 Joseph Lockyer, who discovered helium in the solar spectrum, proposed a meteoritic hypothesis for the formation and evolution of the Sun.[142] Not until 1904 was a documented solution offered. Ernest Rutherford suggested that the Sun's output could be maintained by an internal source of heat, and suggested radioactive decay as the source.[143] However, it would be Albert Einstein who would provide the essential clue to the source of the Sun's energy output with his mass-energy equivalence relation E = mc2.[144] In 1920, Sir Arthur Eddington proposed that the pressures and temperatures at the core of the Sun could produce a nuclear fusion reaction that merged hydrogen (protons) into helium nuclei, resulting in a production of energy from the net change in mass.[145] The preponderance of hydrogen in the Sun was confirmed in 1925 by Cecilia Payne. The theoretical concept of fusion was developed in the 1930s by the astrophysicists Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and Hans Bethe. Hans Bethe calculated the details of the two main energy-producing nuclear reactions that power the Sun.[146][147] Finally, a seminal paper was published in 1957 by Margaret Burbidge, entitled "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars".[148] The paper demonstrated convincingly that most of the elements in the universe had been synthesized by nuclear reactions inside stars, some like our Sun.




Solar space missions
The first satellites designed to observe the Sun were NASA's Pioneers 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, which were launched between 1959 and 1968. These probes orbited the Sun at a distance similar to that of the Earth, and made the first detailed measurements of the solar wind and the solar magnetic field. Pioneer 9 operated for a particularly long time, transmitting data until May 1983.[149][150] In the 1970s, two Helios spacecraft and the Skylab Apollo Telescope Mount provided scientists with significant new data on solar wind and the solar corona. The Helios 1 and 2 probes were U.S.–German collaborations that studied the solar wind from an orbit carrying the spacecraft inside Mercury's orbit at perihelion.[151] The Skylab space The Sun giving out a large geomagnetic storm on station, launched by NASA in 1973, included a solar observatory 1:29 pm, EST, 13th March 2012 module called the Apollo Telescope Mount that was operated by astronauts resident on the station.[65] Skylab made the first time-resolved observations of the solar transition region and of ultraviolet emissions from the solar corona.[65] Discoveries included the first observations of coronal mass ejections, then called "coronal transients", and of coronal holes, now known to be intimately associated with the solar wind.[151] In 1980, the Solar Maximum Mission was launched by NASA. This spacecraft was designed to observe gamma rays, X-rays and UV radiation from solar flares during a time of high solar activity and solar luminosity. Just a few months after launch, however, an electronics failure caused the probe to go into standby mode, and it spent the next three years in this inactive state. In 1984 Space Shuttle Challenger mission STS-41C retrieved the satellite and repaired its electronics before re-releasing it into orbit. The Solar Maximum Mission subsequently acquired thousands of images of the solar corona before re-entering the Earth's atmosphere in June 1989.[152] Launched in 1991, Japan's Yohkoh (Sunbeam) satellite observed solar flares at X-ray wavelengths. Mission data allowed scientists to identify several different types of flares, and demonstrated that the corona away from regions of peak activity was much more dynamic and active than had previously been supposed. Yohkoh observed an entire solar cycle but went into standby mode when an annular eclipse in 2001 caused it to lose its lock on the Sun. It was destroyed by atmospheric re-entry in 2005.[153] One of the most important solar missions to date has been the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, jointly built by the European Space Agency and NASA and launched on 2 December 1995.[65] Originally intended to serve a two-year mission, a mission extension through 2012 was approved in October 2009.[154] It has proven so useful that a follow-on mission, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, was launched in February 2010.[155] Situated at the Lagrangian point between the Earth and the Sun (at which the gravitational pull from both is equal), SOHO has provided a constant view of the Sun at many wavelengths since its launch.[65] Besides its direct solar observation, SOHO has enabled the discovery of a large number of comets, mostly tiny sungrazing comets which incinerate as they pass the Sun.[156] All these satellites have observed the Sun from the plane of the ecliptic, and so have only observed its equatorial regions in detail. The Ulysses probe was launched in 1990 to study the Sun's polar regions. It first travelled to Jupiter, to "slingshot" past the planet into an orbit which would take it far above the plane of the ecliptic. Serendipitously, it was well-placed to observe the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in 1994. Once Ulysses was in its scheduled orbit, it began observing the solar wind and magnetic field strength at high solar latitudes, finding that the solar wind from high latitudes was moving at about 750 km/s which was slower than expected, and that there were large magnetic waves emerging from high latitudes which scattered galactic cosmic rays.[157]

Sun Elemental abundances in the photosphere are well known from spectroscopic studies, but the composition of the interior of the Sun is more poorly understood. A solar wind sample return mission, Genesis, was designed to allow astronomers to directly measure the composition of solar material. Genesis returned to Earth in 2004 but was damaged by a crash landing after its parachute failed to deploy on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. Despite severe damage, some usable samples have been recovered from the spacecraft's sample return module and are undergoing analysis.[158] The Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) mission was launched in October 2006. Two identical spacecraft were launched into orbits that cause them to (respectively) pull further ahead of and fall gradually behind the Earth. This enables stereoscopic imaging of the Sun and solar phenomena, such as coronal mass ejections.[159][160] The Indian Space Research Organisation has scheduled launch of a 100 kg satellite named Aditya. The satellite will be launched in 2012, and will study the dynamic Solar corona.[161]


Observation and effects
The brightness of the sun can cause pain from looking at it with the naked eye, although doing so for brief periods is not hazardous for normal, non-dilated eyes.[162][163] Looking directly at the Sun causes phosphene visual artifacts and temporary partial blindness. It also delivers about 4 milliwatts of sunlight to the retina, slightly heating it and potentially causing damage in eyes that cannot respond properly to the brightness.[164][165] UV exposure gradually yellows the lens of the eye over a period of years and is thought to contribute to the formation of cataracts, but this depends on general exposure to solar UV, not on whether one looks directly at the Sun.[166] Long-duration viewing of the direct Sun with the naked eye can begin to cause UV-induced, sunburn-like lesions on the retina after about 100 seconds, particularly under conditions where the UV light from the Sun is intense and well focused;[167][168] conditions are worsened by young eyes or new lens implants (which admit more UV than aging natural eyes), Sun angles near the zenith, and observing locations at high altitude.

The Sun as it appears from the surface of Earth during the middle of the day

Viewing the Sun through light-concentrating optics such as binoculars may result in permanent damage to the retina without an appropriate filter that blocks UV and substantially dims the sunlight. Attenuating filters to view the Sun should be specifically designed for that use: The Sun as it appears from the surface of Earth some improvised filters pass UV or IR rays that can harm the eye at before sunset. high brightness levels.[169] Unfiltered binoculars can deliver over 500 times as much energy to the retina as using the naked eye, killing retinal cells almost instantly. Even brief glances at the midday Sun through unfiltered binoculars can cause permanent blindness. Partial solar eclipses are hazardous to view because the eye's pupil is not adapted to the unusually high visual contrast: the pupil dilates according to the total amount of light in the field of view, not by the brightest object in the field. During partial eclipses most sunlight is blocked by the Moon passing in front of the Sun, but the uncovered parts of the photosphere have the same surface brightness as during a normal day. In the overall gloom, the pupil expands from ~2 mm to ~6 mm, and each retinal cell exposed to the solar image receives about ten times more light than it would looking at the non-eclipsed Sun. This can damage or kill those cells, resulting in small permanent blind

Sun spots for the viewer.[170] The hazard is insidious for inexperienced observers and for children, because there is no perception of pain: it is not immediately obvious that one's vision is being destroyed. During sunrise and sunset sunlight is attenuated due to Rayleigh scattering and Mie scattering from a particularly long passage through Earth's atmosphere,[171] and the Sun is sometimes faint enough to be viewed comfortably with the naked eye or safely with optics (provided there is no risk of bright sunlight suddenly appearing through a break between clouds). Hazy conditions, atmospheric dust, and high humidity contribute to this atmospheric attenuation.[172] A rare optical phenomenon may occur shortly after sunset or before sunrise, known as a green flash. The flash is caused by light from the Sun just below the horizon being bent (usually through a temperature inversion) towards the observer. Light of shorter wavelengths (violet, blue, green) is bent more than that of longer wavelengths (yellow, orange, red) but the violet and blue light is scattered more, leaving light that is perceived as green.[173] Ultraviolet light from the Sun has antiseptic properties and can be used to sanitize tools and water. It also causes sunburn, and has other medical effects such as the production of vitamin D. Ultraviolet light is strongly attenuated by Earth's ozone layer, so that the amount of UV varies greatly with latitude and has been partially responsible for many biological adaptations, including variations in human skin color in different regions of the globe.[174]


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References Further reading
• Cohen, Richard (2010). Chasing the Sun: the Epic Story of the Star that Gives us Life. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1-4000-6875-4. • Thompson, M. J. (2004). "Solar interior: Helioseismology and the Sun's interior". Astronomy & Geophysics 45 (4): 21–25.

External links
• Nasa SOHO (Solar & Heliospheric Observatory) satellite (http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/) • National Solar Observatory (http://www.nso.edu/) • Astronomy Cast: The Sun (http://www.astronomycast.com/astronomy/episode-30-the-sun-spots-and-all/) • A collection of spectacular images of the sun from various institutions (http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/ 2008/10/the_sun.html) (The Boston Globe) • Satellite observations of solar luminosity (http://www.acrim.com/) • Sun|Trek, an educational website about the Sun (http://www.suntrek.org/) • The Swedish 1-meter Solar Telescope, SST (http://www.solarphysics.kva.se/) • An animated explanation of the structure of the Sun (http://alienworlds.glam.ac.uk/sunStructure.html) (University of Glamorgan) • The Future of our sun (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpMRtvFD8ek&hl=fr) • Solar Conveyor Belt Speeds Up (http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2010/12mar_conveyorbelt.htm) – NASA – images, link to report on Science




MESSENGER image of Mercury with three visible colors mapped to 1000 nm, 700 nm, and 430 nm wavelengths
Designations Pronunciation Adjective


Mercurian, Mercurial Orbital characteristics Epoch J2000

Aphelion Perihelion Semi-major axis Eccentricity Orbital period

• • • • • •

69,816,900 km 0.466 697 AU 46,001,200 km 0.307 499 AU 57,909,100 km 0.387 098 AU

0.205 630
• • •

87.969 1 d (0.240 846 a) 0.5 Mercury solar day
[3] [3]

Synodic period Average orbital speed Mean anomaly Inclination

115.88 d

47.87 km/s 174.796°
• • •

7.005° to Ecliptic 3.38° to Sun’s equator [4] 6.34° to Invariable plane

Longitude of ascending node Argument of perihelion Satellites

48.331° 29.124° None Physical characteristics

Mean radius

• •

2,439.7 ± 1.0 km 0.3829 Earths




Flattening Surface area

• • • • • •

7.48×107 km2 0.147 Earths



6.083×1010 km3 0.056 Earths 3.3022×1023 kg 0.055 Earths




Mean density Equatorial surface gravity

5.427 g/cm3
• •

3.7 m/s2 [5] 0.38 g

Escape velocity Sidereal rotation period Equatorial rotation velocity Axial tilt North pole right ascension

4.25 km/s
• •

58.646 day [5] 1407.5 h

10.892 km/h (unknown operator: u'strong' m/s) 2.11′ ± 0.1′
• • [7]

18 h 44 min 2 s [3] 281.01°
[3] [8]

North pole declination Albedo

• •

0.068 (Bond) [8] 0.142 (geom.) min mean max

Surface temp. [9]    0°N, 0°W [9]    85°N, 0°W

100 K 340 K 700 K 80 K 200 K 380 K

Apparent magnitude Angular diameter



to 5.7

4.5" – 13" Atmosphere

Surface pressure Composition

• • • • • •

42% Molecular oxygen 29.0% sodium 22.0% hydrogen 6.0% helium 0.5% potassium Trace amounts of argon, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, water vapor, xenon, krypton and neon

Mercury is the innermost of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the smallest, and its orbit has the highest eccentricity of the eight.[1] It orbits the Sun once in about 88 Earth days, completing three rotations about its axis for every two orbits. Mercury has the smallest axial tilt of the Solar System planets. The perihelion of Mercury's orbit precesses around the Sun at an excess of 43 arcseconds per century beyond what is predicted by Newtonian mechanics, a phenomenon that was explained in the 20th century by Albert Einstein's General Theory of

Mercury Relativity.[2] Mercury, being an inferior planet, appears as a morning star and an evening star, but is much more difficult to see than the other inferior planet, Venus. At its brightest, Mercury is technically a very bright object when viewed from Earth, but it is not easily seen in practice because of its proximity in the sky to the Sun.


Internal structure
Mercury is one of four terrestrial planets in the Solar System, and is a rocky body like the Earth. It is the smallest planet in the Solar System, with an equatorial radius of 2,439.7 km.[3] Mercury is even smaller—albeit more massive—than the largest natural satellites in the Solar System, Ganymede and Titan. Mercury consists of approximately 70% metallic and 30% silicate material.[3] Mercury's density is the second highest in the Solar System at 5.427 g/cm3, only slightly less than Earth’s density of 5.515 g/cm3.[3] If the effect of gravitational compression were to be factored out, the materials of which Mercury is made would be denser, with an uncompressed density of 5.3 g/cm3 versus Earth’s 4.4 g/cm3.[4] Mercury’s density can be used to infer details of its inner structure. While the Earth’s high density results appreciably from gravitational compression, particularly at the core, Mercury is much smaller and its inner regions are not nearly as strongly compressed. Therefore, for it to have such a high density, its core must be large and rich in iron.[5]

Size comparison of terrestrial planets (left to right): Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars

Internal structure of Mercury: 1. Crust: 100–300 km thick 2. Mantle: 600 km thick 3. Core: 1,800 km radius

Geologists estimate that Mercury’s core occupies about 42% of its volume; for Earth this proportion is 17%. Recent research strongly suggests that Mercury has a molten core.[6][7] Surrounding the core is a 500–700 km mantle consisting of silicates.[8][9] Based on data from the Mariner 10 mission and Earth-based observation, Mercury’s crust is believed to be 100–300 km thick.[10] One distinctive feature of Mercury’s surface is the presence of numerous narrow ridges, extending up to several hundred kilometers in length. It is believed that these were formed as Mercury’s core and mantle cooled and contracted at a time when the crust had already solidified.[11] Mercury's core has a higher iron content than that of any other major planet in the Solar System, and several theories have been proposed to explain this. The most widely accepted theory is that Mercury originally had a metal-silicate ratio similar to common chondrite meteorites, thought to be typical of the Solar System's rocky matter, and a mass approximately 2.25 times its current mass.[12] Early in the Solar System’s history, Mercury may have been struck by a planetesimal of approximately 1/6 that mass and several hundred kilometers across.[12] The impact would have

Mercury stripped away much of the original crust and mantle, leaving the core behind as a relatively major component.[12] A similar process, known as the giant impact hypothesis, has been proposed to explain the formation of Earth’s Moon.[12] Alternatively, Mercury may have formed from the solar nebula before the Sun's energy output had stabilized. The planet would initially have had twice its present mass, but as the protosun contracted, temperatures near Mercury could have been between 2,500 and 3,500 K (Celsius equivalents about 273 degrees less), and possibly even as high as 10,000 K.[13] Much of Mercury’s surface rock could have been vaporized at such temperatures, forming an atmosphere of "rock vapor" which could have been carried away by the solar wind.[13] A third hypothesis proposes that the solar nebula caused drag on the particles from which Mercury was accreting, which meant that lighter particles were lost from the accreting material.[14] Each hypothesis predicts a different surface composition, and two upcoming space missions, MESSENGER and BepiColombo, both aim to make observations to test them.[15][16] MESSENGER has found higher-than-expected potassium and sulfur levels on the surface, suggesting that the giant impact hypothesis and vaporization of the crust and mantle did not occur since potassium and sulfur would have been driven off by the extreme heat of these events. The findings seem to favor the third hypothesis in which many lighter planetary materials were driven off leaving behind higher metal concentrations.[17]


Surface geology
Mercury’s surface is very similar in appearance to that of the Moon, showing extensive mare-like plains and heavy cratering, indicating that it has been geologically inactive for billions of years. Since our knowledge of Mercury's geology has been based on the 1975 Mariner flyby and terrestrial observations, it is the least understood of the terrestrial planets.[7] As data from the recent MESSENGER flyby is processed this knowledge will increase. For example, an unusual crater with radiating troughs has been discovered which scientists called "the spider."[18] It later received the name Apollodorus. Names for features on Mercury come from a variety of sources. Names coming from people are limited to the deceased. Craters are named for Image from MESSENGER's second Mercury artists, musicians, painters, and authors who have made outstanding or flyby. Kuiper crater is just below center. An fundamental contributions to their field. Ridges, or dorsa, are named extensive ray system emanates from Hokusai for scientists who have contributed to the study of Mercury. crater near the top. Depressions or fossae are named for works of architecture. Montes are named for the word "hot" in a variety of languages. Plains or planitiae are named for Mercury in various languages. Escarpments or rupēs are named for ships of scientific expeditions. Valleys or valles are named for radio telescope facilities.[19] Albedo features refer to areas of markedly different reflectivity, as seen by telescopic observation. Mercury possesses Dorsa (also called "wrinkle-ridges"), Moon-like highlands, Montes (mountains), Planitiae, or plains, Rupes (escarpments), and Valles (valleys).[20][21] Mercury was heavily bombarded by comets and asteroids during and shortly following its formation 4.6 billion years ago, as well as during a possibly separate subsequent episode called the late heavy bombardment that came to an end 3.8 billion years ago.[22] During this period of intense crater formation, the planet received impacts over its entire surface,[21] facilitated by the lack of any atmosphere to slow impactors down.[23] During this time the planet was volcanically active; basins such as the Caloris Basin were filled by magma from within the planet, which produced smooth plains similar to the maria found on the Moon.[24][25]

Mercury Data from the October 2008 flyby of MESSENGER gave researchers a greater appreciation for the jumbled nature of Mercury's surface. Mercury's surface is more heterogeneous than either Mars' or the Moon's, both of which contain significant stretches of similar geology, such as maria and plateaus.[26]


Impact basins and craters

Mercury’s Caloris Basin is one of the largest impact features in the Solar System

The so-called "Weird Terrain" was formed at the point antipodal to the Caloris Basin impact

Craters on Mercury range in diameter from small bowl-shaped cavities to multi-ringed impact basins hundreds of kilometers across. They appear in all states of degradation, from relatively fresh rayed craters to highly degraded crater remnants. Mercurian craters differ subtly from lunar craters in that the area blanketed by their ejecta is much smaller, a consequence of Mercury's stronger surface gravity.[27] The largest known crater is Caloris Basin, with a diameter of 1,550 km.[28] The impact that created the Caloris Basin was so powerful that it caused lava eruptions and left a concentric ring over 2 km tall surrounding the impact crater. At the antipode of the Caloris Basin is a large region of unusual, hilly terrain known as the "Weird Terrain". One hypothesis for its origin is that shock waves generated during the Caloris impact traveled around the planet, converging at the basin’s antipode (180 degrees away). The resulting high stresses fractured the surface.[29] Alternatively, it has been suggested that this terrain formed as a result of the convergence of ejecta at this basin’s antipode.[30] Overall, about 15 impact basins have been identified on the imaged part of Mercury. A notable basin is the 400 km wide, multi-ring Tolstoj Basin which has an ejecta blanket extending up to 500 km from its rim and a floor that has been filled by smooth plains materials. Beethoven Basin has a similar-sized ejecta blanket and a 625 km diameter rim.[27] Like the Moon, the surface of Mercury has likely incurred the effects of space weathering processes, including Solar wind and micrometeorite impacts.[31]



There are two geologically distinct plains regions on Mercury.[27][32] Gently rolling, hilly plains in the regions between craters are Mercury's oldest visible surfaces,[27] predating the heavily cratered terrain. These inter-crater plains appear to have obliterated many earlier craters, and show a general paucity of smaller craters below about 30 km in diameter.[32] It is not clear whether they are of volcanic or impact origin.[32] The inter-crater plains are distributed roughly uniformly over the entire surface of the planet. Smooth plains are widespread flat areas which fill depressions of various sizes and bear a strong resemblance to the lunar maria. Notably, they fill a wide ring surrounding the Caloris Basin. Unlike lunar maria, the smooth plains of Mercury have the same albedo as the older inter-crater plains. Despite a lack of unequivocally volcanic characteristics, the localisation and rounded, lobate shape of these plains strongly support volcanic origins.[27] All the Mercurian smooth plains formed significantly later than the Caloris basin, as evidenced by appreciably smaller crater densities than on the Caloris ejecta blanket.[27] The floor of the Caloris Basin is filled by a geologically distinct flat plain, broken up by ridges and fractures in a roughly polygonal pattern. It is not clear whether they are volcanic lavas induced by the impact, or a large sheet of impact melt.[27] One unusual feature of the planet’s surface is the numerous compression folds, or rupes, which crisscross the plains. As the planet’s interior cooled, it may have contracted and its surface began to deform, creating these features. The folds can be seen on top of other features, such as craters and smoother plains, indicating that the folds are more recent.[33] Mercury’s surface is flexed by significant tidal bulges raised by the Sun—the Sun’s tides on Mercury are about 17 times stronger than the Moon’s on Earth.[34]

Surface conditions and "atmosphere" (exosphere)
The surface temperature of Mercury ranges from 100 K to 700 K[35] due to the absence of an atmosphere and a steep temperature gradient between the equator and the poles. The subsolar point reaches about 700 K during perihelion then drops to 550 K at aphelion.[36] On the dark side of the planet, temperatures average 110 K.[37] The intensity of sunlight on Mercury’s surface ranges between 4.59 and 10.61 times the solar constant (1,370 W·m−2).[38] Although the daylight temperature at the surface of Mercury is generally extremely high, observations strongly suggest that ice (frozen water) exists on Mercury. The floors of deep craters at the poles are never exposed to direct sunlight, and temperatures there remain below 102 K; far lower than the global average.[39] Water ice strongly reflects radar, and observations by the 70 m Goldstone telescope and the VLA Radar image of Mercury's north pole in the early 1990s revealed that there are patches of very high radar reflection near the poles.[40] While ice is not the only possible cause of these reflective regions, astronomers believe it is the most likely.[41] The icy regions are believed to contain about 1014–1015 kg of ice,[42] and may be covered by a layer of regolith that inhibits sublimation.[43] By comparison, the Antarctic ice sheet on Earth has a mass of about 4×1018 kg, and Mars' south polar cap contains about 1016 kg of water.[42] The origin of the ice on Mercury is not yet known, but the two most likely sources are from outgassing of water from the planet’s interior or deposition by impacts of comets.[42] Mercury is too small and hot for its gravity to retain any significant atmosphere over long periods of time; it does have a "tenuous surface-bounded exosphere"[44] containing hydrogen, helium, oxygen, sodium, calcium, potassium and others. This exosphere is not stable—atoms are continuously lost and replenished from a variety of sources. Hydrogen and helium atoms probably come from the solar wind, diffusing into Mercury’s magnetosphere before

Mercury later escaping back into space. Radioactive decay of elements within Mercury’s crust is another source of helium, as well as sodium and potassium. MESSENGER found high proportions of calcium, helium, hydroxide, magnesium, oxygen, potassium, silicon and sodium. Water vapor is present, released by a combination of processes such as: comets striking its surface, sputtering creating water out of hydrogen from the solar wind and oxygen from rock, and sublimation from reservoirs of water ice in the permanently shadowed polar craters. The detection of high amounts of water-related ions like O+, OH-, and H2O+ was a surprise.[45][46] Because of the quantities of these ions that were detected in Mercury's space environment, scientists surmise that these molecules were blasted from the surface or exosphere by the solar wind.[47][48] Sodium, potassium and calcium were discovered in the atmosphere during the 1980–1990s, and are believed to result primarily from the vaporization of surface rock struck by micrometeorite impacts.[49] In 2008 magnesium was discovered by MESSENGER probe.[50] Studies indicate that, at times, sodium emissions are localized at points that correspond to the planet's magnetic poles. This would indicate an interaction between the magnetosphere and the planet's surface.[51]


Magnetic field and magnetosphere
Despite its small size and slow 59-day-long rotation, Mercury has a significant, and apparently global, magnetic field. According to measurements taken by Mariner 10, it is about 1.1% as strong as the Earth’s. The magnetic field strength at the Mercurian equator is about 300 nT.[52][53] Like that of Earth, Mercury's magnetic field is dipolar.[51] Unlike Earth, Mercury's poles are nearly aligned with the planet's spin axis.[54] Measurements from both the Mariner 10 and MESSENGER space probes have indicated that the strength and shape of the magnetic field are stable.[54] It is likely that this magnetic field is generated by way of a dynamo effect, in a manner similar to the magnetic field of Earth.[55][56] This dynamo effect would result from the circulation of the planet's iron-rich liquid core. Particularly strong tidal effects caused by the planet's high orbital eccentricity would serve to keep the core in the liquid state necessary for this dynamo effect.[57] Mercury’s magnetic field is strong enough to deflect the solar wind around the planet, creating a magnetosphere. The planet's magnetosphere, though small enough to fit within the Earth,[51] is strong enough to trap solar wind plasma. This contributes to the space weathering of the planet's surface.[54] Observations taken by the Mariner 10 spacecraft detected this low energy plasma in the magnetosphere of the planet's nightside. Bursts of energetic particles were detected in the planet's magnetotail, which indicates a dynamic quality to the planet's magnetosphere.[51] During its second flyby of the planet on October 6, 2008, MESSENGER discovered that Mercury’s magnetic field can be extremely "leaky." The spacecraft encountered magnetic "tornadoes" – twisted bundles of magnetic fields connecting the planetary magnetic field to interplanetary space – that were up to 800 km wide or a third of the radius of the planet. These 'tornadoes' form when magnetic fields carried by the solar wind connect to Mercury's magnetic field. As the solar wind blows past Mercury's field, these joined magnetic fields are carried with it and twist up into vortex-like structures. These twisted magnetic flux tubes, technically known as flux transfer events, form open windows in the planet's magnetic shield through which the solar wind may enter and directly impact Mercury's surface.[58] The process of linking interplanetary and planetary magnetic fields, called magnetic reconnection, is common throughout the cosmos. It occurs in Earth's magnetic field, where it generates magnetic tornadoes as well. The
Graph showing relative strength of Mercury's magnetic field

Mercury MESSENGER observations show the reconnection rate is ten times higher at Mercury. Mercury's proximity to the Sun only accounts for about a third of the reconnection rate observed by MESSENGER.[58]


Orbit and rotation

Orbit of Mercury (yellow). Dates refer to 2006.

Animation of Mercury's and Earth's revolution around the Sun

Mercury has the most eccentric orbit of all the planets; its eccentricity is 0.21 with its distance from the Sun ranging from 46 to 70 million kilometers. It takes 87.969 earth days to complete an orbit. The diagram on the right illustrates the effects of the eccentricity, showing Mercury's orbit overlaid with a circular orbit having the same semi-major axis. The higher velocity of the planet when it is near perihelion is clear from the greater distance it covers in each 5-day interval. The size of the spheres, inversely proportional to their distance from the Sun, is used to illustrate the varying heliocentric distance. This varying distance to the Sun, combined with a 3:2 spin-orbit resonance of the planet's rotation around its axis, result in complex variations of the surface temperature.[3] This resonance makes a single day on Mercury last exactly two Mercury years, or about 176 Earth days.[59] Mercury's orbit is inclined by 7 degrees to the plane of Earth's orbit (the ecliptic), as shown in the diagram on the right. As a result, transits of Mercury across the face of the Sun can only occur when the planet is crossing the plane of the ecliptic at the time it lies between the Earth and the Sun. This occurs about every seven years on average.[60] Mercury's axial tilt is almost zero,[61] with the best measured value as low as 0.027 degrees.[7] This is significantly smaller than that of Jupiter, which has the second smallest axial tilt of all planets at 3.1 degrees. This means that to an observer at Mercury's poles, the center of the Sun never rises more than 2.1 arcminutes above the horizon.[7] At certain points on Mercury's surface, an observer would be able to see the Sun rise about halfway, then reverse and set before rising again, all within the same Mercurian day. This is because approximately four Earth days before perihelion, Mercury's angular orbital velocity exactly equals its angular rotational velocity so that the Sun's apparent motion ceases; at perihelion, Mercury's angular orbital velocity then exceeds the angular rotational velocity. Thus, to a hypothetical observer on Mercury, the Sun appears to move in a retrograde direction. Four days after perihelion, the Sun’s normal apparent motion resumes at these points.[3]

Mercury Mercury attains inferior conjunction (near approach to the Earth) every 116 Earth days on average,[3] but this interval can range from 105 days to 129 days due to the planet’s eccentric orbit. Mercury can come as close as 77.3 million km to the Earth,[3] but it will not be closer to Earth than 80 Gm until AD 28,622. The next approach to within 82.1 Gm is in 2679, and to within 82 Gm in 4487.[62] Its period of retrograde motion as seen from Earth can vary from 8 to 15 days on either side of inferior conjunction. This large range arises from the planet's high orbital eccentricity.[3]


Spin–orbit resonance
For many years it was thought that Mercury was synchronously tidally locked with the Sun, rotating once for each orbit and always keeping the same face directed towards the Sun, in the same way that the same side of the Moon always faces the Earth. Radar observations in 1965 proved that the planet has a 3:2 spin–orbit resonance, rotating three times for every two revolutions around the Sun; the eccentricity of Mercury’s orbit makes this resonance stable—at perihelion, when the solar tide is strongest, the Sun is nearly still in Mercury’s sky.[63] The original reason astronomers thought it was synchronously locked was that, whenever Mercury was best placed for observation, it was always nearly at the same point in its 3:2 resonance, hence showing the same face. This is because, coincidentally, Mercury's rotation period is almost exactly half of its synodic period with respect to Earth. Due to Mercury's 3:2 spin–orbit resonance, a solar day (the length between two meridian transits of the Sun) lasts about 176 Earth days.[3] A sidereal day (the period of rotation) lasts about 58.7 Earth days.[3]

After one orbit, Mercury has rotated 1.5 times, so after two complete orbits the same hemisphere is again illuminated.

Simulations indicate that the orbital eccentricity of Mercury varies chaotically from nearly zero (circular) to more than 0.45 over millions of years due to perturbations from the other planets.[3][64] This is thought to explain Mercury's 3:2 spin-orbit resonance (rather than the more usual 1:1), since this state is more likely to arise during a period of high eccentricity.[65] Numerical simulations show that a future secular orbital resonant perihelion interaction with Jupiter may cause the eccentricity of Mercury's orbit to increase to the point where there is a 1% chance that the planet may collide with Venus within the next five billion years.[66][67]

Advance of perihelion
In 1859, the French mathematician and astronomer Urbain Le Verrier reported that the slow precession of Mercury’s orbit around the Sun could not be completely explained by Newtonian mechanics and perturbations by the known planets. He suggested, among possible explanations, that another planet (or perhaps instead a series of smaller 'corpuscules') might exist in an orbit even closer to the Sun than that of Mercury, to account for this perturbation.[68] (Other explanations considered included a slight oblateness of the Sun.) The success of the search for Neptune based on its perturbations of the orbit of Uranus led astronomers to place faith in this possible explanation, and the hypothetical planet was named Vulcan, but no such planet was ever found.[69] The perihelion precession of Mercury is 5600 arc seconds (1.5556°) per century. Newtonian mechanics, taking into account all the effects from the other planets, predicts a precession of 5557 seconds of arc (1.5436°) per century.[70] In the early 20th century, Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity provided the explanation for the observed precession. The effect is very small: the Mercurian relativistic perihelion advance excess is just 42.98 arcseconds per century; therefore, it requires a little over twelve million orbits for a full excess turn. Similar, but much smaller, effects operate for other planets: 8.62 arcseconds per century for Venus, 3.84 for Earth, 1.35 for Mars, and 10.05 for 1566 Icarus.[71][72]



Coordinate system
Longitude on Mercury increases in the westerly direction. A small crater named Hun Kal provides the reference point for measuring longitude. The center of Hun Kal is 20° west longitude.[73]

Mercury’s apparent magnitude varies between −2.6[10] (brighter than the brightest star Sirius) and about +5.7 (approximating the theoretical limit of naked-eye visibility). The extremes occur when Mercury is close to the Sun in the sky.[10][11] Observation of Mercury is complicated by its proximity to the Sun, as it is lost in the Sun’s glare for much of the time. Mercury can be observed for only a brief period during either morning or evening twilight. Mercury can, like several other planets and the brightest stars, be seen during a total solar eclipse.[74] Like the Moon and Venus, Mercury exhibits phases as seen from Earth. It is "new" at inferior conjunction and "full" at superior conjunction. The planet is rendered invisible from Earth on both of these occasions because of its relative nearness to the Sun.

First high-resolution image of Mercury transmitted by MESSENGER (false color)

Mercury is technically brightest as seen from Earth when it is at a full phase. Although the planet is farthest away from Earth when it is full the greater illuminated area that is visible and the opposition brightness surge more than compensates for the distance.[10] The opposite is true for Venus, which appears brightest when it is a crescent, because it is much closer to Earth than when gibbous.[10][75] Nonetheless, the brightest (full phase) appearance of Mercury is an essentially impossible time for practical observation, because of the extreme proximity of the Sun. Mercury is best observed at the first and last quarter, although they are phases of lesser brightness. The first and last quarter phases occur at greatest elongation east and west, respectively. At both of these times Mercury's separation from the Sun ranges anywhere from 17.9° at perihelion to 27.8° at aphelion.[76][77] At greatest elongation west, Mercury rises at its earliest before the Sun, and at greatest elongation east, it sets at its latest after the Sun.[78] At tropical and subtropical latitudes, Mercury is more easily seen than at higher latitudes. This is the result of two effects: (i) the Sun ascends above the horizon more steeply at sunrise and descends more steeply at sunset, so the twilight period is shorter, and (ii) at the right times of year, the ecliptic intersects the horizon at a very steep angle, meaning that Mercury can be relatively high (altitude up to 28°) in a fully dark sky. Such conditions can exist, for instance, after sunset near the Spring Equinox, in March/April for the southern USA and in September/October for South Africa and Australasia. Conversely, pre-sunrise viewing is easiest near the Autumn Equinox. At temperate latitudes, Mercury is more often easily visible from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere than from its Northern Hemisphere. This is because Mercury's maximum possible elongations west of the Sun always occur when it is early autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, while its maximum possible eastern elongations happen during late winter in the Southern Hemisphere.[78] In both of these cases, the angle Mercury strikes with the ecliptic is maximized, allowing it to rise several hours before the Sun in the former instance and not set until several hours after sundown in the latter in countries located at southern temperate zone latitudes, such as Argentina and South Africa.[78] By contrast, at the major population centers of the northern temperate latitudes, Mercury is never above the horizon of a more-or-less fully dark night sky.

Mercury Ground-based telescope observations of Mercury reveal only an illuminated partial disk with limited detail. The first of two spacecraft to visit the planet was Mariner 10, which mapped about 45% of its surface from 1974 to 1975. The second is the MESSENGER spacecraft, which after three Mercury flybys between 2008 and 2009, attained orbit around Mercury on March 17, 2011,[79] to study and map the rest of the planet.[80] The Hubble Space Telescope cannot observe Mercury at all, due to safety procedures which prevent its pointing too close to the Sun.[81]


Ancient astronomers
The earliest known recorded observations of Mercury are from the Mul.Apin tablets. These observations were most likely made by an Assyrian astronomer around the 14th century BC.[82] The cuneiform name used to designate Mercury on the Mul.Apin tablets is transcribed as Udu.Idim.Gu\u4.Ud ("the jumping planet").[83][84] Babylonian records of Mercury date back to the 1st millennium BC. The Babylonians called the planet Nabu after the messenger to the gods in their mythology.[85] The ancient Greeks of Hesiod's time knew the planet as Στίλβων (Stilbon), meaning "the gleaming", and Ἑρμάων (Hermaon).[86] Later Greeks called the planet Apollo when it was visible in the morning sky, and Hermes when visible in the evening. Around the 4th century BC, Greek astronomers came to understand that the two names referred to the same body, Hermes (Ερμής: Ermis), a planetary name which is retained in modern Greek.[87] The Romans named the planet after the swift-footed Roman messenger god, Mercury (Latin Mercurius), which they equated with the Greek Hermes, because it moves across the sky faster than any other planet.[88][89] The astronomical symbol for Mercury is a stylized version of Hermes' caduceus.[90] The Roman-Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy wrote about the possibility of planetary transits across the face of the Sun in his work Planetary Hypotheses. He suggested that no transits had been observed either because planets such as Mercury were too small to see, or because the transits were too infrequent.[91] In ancient China, Mercury was known as Chen Xing (辰 星), the Hour Star. It was associated with the direction north and the phase of water in the Wu Xing.[92] Modern Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese cultures refer to the planet literally as the "water star" (水 星), based on the Five elements.[93] Hindu mythology used the name Budha for Mercury, and this god was thought to preside over Wednesday.[94] The god Odin (or Woden) of Germanic paganism was associated with the planet Mercury and Wednesday.[95] The Maya may have represented Mercury as an owl (or possibly four owls; two for the morning aspect and two for the evening) that served as a messenger to the underworld.[96] In ancient Indian astronomy, the Surya Siddhanta, an Indian astronomical text of the 5th century, estimates the diameter of Mercury as 3,008 miles, an error of less than 1% from the currently accepted diameter of 3032 miles (unknown operator: u'strong' km). This estimate was based upon an inaccurate guess of the planet's angular diameter as 3.0 arcminutes. In medieval Islamic astronomy, the Andalusian astronomer Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm al-Zarqālī in the 11th century described the deferent of Mercury's geocentric orbit as being oval, like an egg or a pignon, although this insight did not influence his astronomical theory or his astronomical calculations.[97][98] In the 12th century, Ibn Bajjah observed "two planets as black spots on the face of the Sun," which was later suggested as the transit of Mercury
Ibn al-Shatir's model for the appearances of Mercury, showing the multiplication of epicycles using the Tusi-couple, thus eliminating the Ptolemaic eccentrics and equant.

Mercury and/or Venus by the Maragha astronomer Qotb al-Din Shirazi in the 13th century.[99] (Note that most such medieval reports of transits were later taken as observations of sunspots.[100]) In India, the Kerala school astronomer Nilakantha Somayaji in the 15th century developed a partially heliocentric planetary model in which Mercury orbits the Sun, which in turn orbits the Earth, similar to the Tychonic system later proposed by Tycho Brahe in the late 16th century.[101]


Ground-based telescopic research
The first telescopic observations of Mercury were made by Galileo in the early 17th century. Although he observed phases when he looked at Venus, his telescope was not powerful enough to see the phases of Mercury. In 1631 Pierre Gassendi made the first telescopic observations of the transit of a planet across the Sun when he saw a transit of Mercury predicted by Johannes Kepler. In 1639 Giovanni Zupi used a telescope to discover that the planet had orbital phases similar to Venus and the Moon. The observation demonstrated conclusively that Mercury orbited around the Sun.[3] A very rare event in astronomy is the passage of one planet in front of another (occultation), as seen from Earth. Mercury and Venus occult each other every few centuries, and the event of May 28, 1737 is the only one historically observed, having been seen by John Bevis at the Royal Greenwich Observatory.[102] The next occultation of Mercury by Venus will be on December 3, 2133.[103]

Transit of Mercury. Mercury is the small dot in the lower center, in front of the Sun. The dark area on the left of the solar disk is a sunspot.

The difficulties inherent in observing Mercury mean that it has been far less studied than the other planets. In 1800 Johann Schröter made observations of surface features, claiming to have observed 20 km high mountains. Friedrich Bessel used Schröter's drawings to erroneously estimate the rotation period as 24 hours and an axial tilt of 70°.[104] In the 1880s Giovanni Schiaparelli mapped the planet more accurately, and suggested that Mercury’s rotational period was 88 days, the same as its orbital period due to tidal locking.[105] This phenomenon is known as synchronous rotation and is shown by Earth’s Moon. The effort to map the surface of Mercury was continued by Eugenios Antoniadi, who published a book in 1934 that included both maps and his own observations.[51] Many of the planet's surface features, particularly the albedo features, take their names from Antoniadi's map.[106] In June 1962 Soviet scientists at the Institute of Radio-engineering and Electronics of the USSR Academy of Sciences led by Vladimir Kotelnikov became first to bounce radar signal off Mercury and receive it, starting radar observations of the planet.[107][108][109] Three years later radar observations by Americans Gordon Pettengill and R. Dyce using 300-meter Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico showed conclusively that the planet’s rotational period was about 59 days.[110][111] The theory that Mercury's rotation was synchronous had become widely held, and it was a surprise to astronomers when these radio observations were announced. If Mercury were tidally locked, its dark face would be extremely cold, but measurements of radio emission revealed that it was much hotter than expected. Astronomers were reluctant to drop the synchronous rotation theory and proposed alternative mechanisms such as powerful heat-distributing winds to explain the observations.[112] Italian astronomer Giuseppe Colombo noted that the rotation value was about two-thirds of Mercury's orbital period, and proposed that the planet's orbital and rotational periods were locked into a 3:2 rather than a 1:1 resonance.[113] Data from Mariner 10 subsequently confirmed this view.[114] This means that Schiaparelli's and Antoniadi's maps were not "wrong". Instead, the astronomers saw the same features during every second orbit and recorded them, but disregarded those seen in the meantime, when Mercury's other face was toward the Sun, since the orbital geometry meant that these observations were made under poor viewing conditions.[104]

Mercury Ground-based optical observations did not shed much further light on the innermost planet, but radio astronomers using interferometery at microwave wavelengths, a technique that enables removal of the solar radiation, were able to discern physical and chemical characteristics of the subsurface layers to a depth of several meters.[115][116] Not until the first space probe flew past Mercury did many of its most fundamental morphological properties become known. Moreover, recent technological advances have led to improved ground-based observations. In 2000, high-resolution lucky imaging observations were conducted by the Mount Wilson Observatory 1.5 meter Hale telescope. They provided the first views that resolved surface features on the parts of Mercury which were not imaged in the Mariner mission.[117] Later imaging has shown evidence of a huge double-ringed impact basin even larger than the Caloris Basin in the non-Mariner-imaged hemisphere. It has informally been dubbed the Skinakas Basin.[118] Most of the planet has been mapped by the Arecibo radar telescope, with 5 km resolution, including polar deposits in shadowed craters of what may be water ice.[119]


Research with space probes
Reaching Mercury from Earth poses significant technical challenges, since the planet orbits so much closer to the Sun than does the Earth. A Mercury-bound spacecraft launched from Earth must travel over 91 million kilometers into the Sun’s gravitational potential well. Mercury has an orbital speed of 48 km/s, while Earth's orbital speed is 30 km/s. Thus the spacecraft must make a large change in velocity (delta-v) to enter a Hohmann transfer orbit that passes near Mercury, as compared to the delta-v required for other planetary missions.[120] The potential energy liberated by moving down the Sun’s potential well becomes kinetic energy; requiring another large delta-v change to do anything other than rapidly pass by Mercury. To land safely or enter a stable orbit the spacecraft would rely entirely on rocket motors. Aerobraking is ruled out because the planet has very little atmosphere. A trip to Mercury requires more rocket fuel than that required to escape the Solar System completely. As a result, only two space probes have visited the planet so far.[121] A proposed alternative approach would use a solar sail to attain a Mercury-synchronous orbit around the Sun.[122] Mariner 10

The Mariner 10 probe, the first probe to visit the innermost planet

View of Mercury from Mariner 10

Mercury The first spacecraft to visit Mercury was NASA’s Mariner 10 (1974–75).[88] The spacecraft used the gravity of Venus to adjust its orbital velocity so that it could approach Mercury, making it both the first spacecraft to use this gravitational "slingshot" effect and the first NASA mission to visit multiple planets.[120] Mariner 10 provided the first close-up images of Mercury’s surface, which immediately showed its heavily cratered nature, and revealed many other types of geological features, such as the giant scarps which were later ascribed to the effect of the planet shrinking slightly as its iron core cools.[123] Unfortunately, due to the length of Mariner 10's orbital period, the same face of the planet was lit at each of Mariner 10’s close approaches. This made observation of both sides of the planet impossible,[124] and resulted in the mapping of less than 45% of the planet’s surface.[125] On March 27, 1974, two days before its first flyby of Mercury, Mariner 10's instruments began registering large amounts of unexpected ultraviolet radiation near Mercury. This led to the tentative identification of Mercury's moon. Shortly afterward, the source of the excess UV was identified as the star 31 Crateris, and Mercury's moon passed into astronomy's history books as a footnote. The spacecraft made three close approaches to Mercury, the closest of which took it to within 327 km of the surface.[126] At the first close approach, instruments detected a magnetic field, to the great surprise of planetary geologists—Mercury’s rotation was expected to be much too slow to generate a significant dynamo effect. The second close approach was primarily used for imaging, but at the third approach, extensive magnetic data were obtained. The data revealed that the planet’s magnetic field is much like the Earth’s, which deflects the solar wind around the planet. The origin of Mercury’s magnetic field is still the subject of several competing theories.[127] On March 24, 1975, just eight days after its final close approach, Mariner 10 ran out of fuel. Since its orbit could no longer be accurately controlled, mission controllers instructed the probe to shut down.[128] Mariner 10 is thought to be still orbiting the Sun, passing close to Mercury every few months.[129] MESSENGER A second NASA mission to Mercury, named MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging), was launched on August 3, 2004, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket. It made a fly-by of the Earth in August 2005, and of Venus in October 2006 and June 2007 to place it onto the correct trajectory to reach an orbit around Mercury.[130] A first fly-by of Mercury occurred on January 14, 2008, a second on October 6, 2008,[131] and a third on September 29, 2009.[132] Most of the MESSENGER being prepared for launch hemisphere not imaged by Mariner 10 has been mapped during these fly-bys. The probe successfully entered an elliptical orbit around the planet on March 18, 2011. The first orbital image of Mercury was obtained on March 29, 2011. The probe finished a one-year mapping mission,[131] and is now on a one-year extended mission expected to end in 2013. In addition to continued observations and mapping of Mercury, MESSENGER will observe the 2012 solar maximum.[133] The mission is designed to clear up six key issues: Mercury’s high density, its geological history, the nature of its magnetic field, the structure of its core, whether it has ice at its poles, and where its tenuous atmosphere comes from. To this end, the probe is carrying imaging devices which will gather much higher resolution images of much more of the planet than Mariner 10, assorted spectrometers to determine abundances of elements in the crust, and magnetometers and devices to measure velocities of charged particles. Detailed measurements of tiny changes in the probe’s velocity as it orbits will be used to infer details of the planet’s interior structure.[15]


Mercury BepiColombo The European Space Agency is planning a joint mission with Japan called BepiColombo, which will orbit Mercury with two probes: one to map the planet and the other to study its magnetosphere.[134] Once launched in 2015, the spacecraft bus is expected to reach Mercury in 2019.[135] The bus will release a magnetometer probe into an elliptical orbit, then chemical rockets will fire to deposit the mapper probe into a circular orbit. Both probes will operate for a terrestrial year.[134] The mapper probe will carry an array of spectrometers similar to those on MESSENGER, and will study the planet at many different wavelengths including infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray and gamma ray.[136]


In culture
In Western astrology, Mercury is the ruling planet of Gemini and Virgo. That is, the supposed astrological influence of the planet was greatest when it was observed in these constellations.[137] On maps of Mercury created by astronomers before the detailed mapping of recent decades, the Solitudo Hermae Trismegisti (Wilderness of Hermes Trismegistus) was identified as a major feature of the planet Mercury, covering about one-fourth of the planet in the SE quadrant.[138] Mercury, the Winged Messenger, is a movement in Gustav Holst's musical suite The Planets.
Mercury, from a 1550 edition of Guido Bonatti's Liber astronomiae.

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Bibcode 2008Icar..196....1L. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2008.02.017. [67] Laskar, J.; Gastineau, M. (2009-06-11). "Existence of collisional trajectories of Mercury, Mars and Venus with the Earth". Nature 459 (7248): 817–819. Bibcode 2009Natur.459..817L. doi:10.1038/nature08096. PMID 19516336. [68] U. Le Verrier (1859), (in French), "Lettre de M. Le Verrier à M. Faye sur la théorie de Mercure et sur le mouvement du périhélie de cette planète" (http:/ / www. archive. org/ stream/ comptesrendusheb49acad#page/ 378/ mode/ 2up), Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences (Paris), vol. 49 (1859), pp. 379–383. (At p. 383 in the same volume Le Verrier's report is followed by another, from Faye, enthusiastically recommending to astronomers to search for a previously undetected intra-mercurial object.) [69] Baum, Richard; Sheehan, William (1997). In Search of Planet Vulcan, The Ghost in Newton's Clockwork Machine. New York: Plenum Press. ISBN 0-306-45567-6. [70] Clemence, G. M. (1947). "The Relativity Effect in Planetary Motions". Reviews of Modern Physics 19 (4): 361–364. Bibcode 1947RvMP...19..361C. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.19.361. [71] Gilvarry, J. J. (1953). "Relativity Precession of the Asteroid Icarus". Physical Review 89 (5): 1046. Bibcode 1953PhRv...89.1046G. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.89.1046.


[72] Anonymous. "6.2 Anomalous Precession" (http:/ / www. mathpages. com/ rr/ s6-02/ 6-02. htm). Reflections on Relativity. MathPages. . Retrieved 2008-05-22. [73] "USGS Astrogeology: Rotation and pole position for the Sun and planets (IAU WGCCRE)" (http:/ / astrogeology. usgs. gov/ Projects/ WGCCRE/ constants/ iau2000_table1. html). . Retrieved 22 October 2009. [74] Tezel, Tunç (January 22, 2003). "Total Solar Eclipse of 2006 March 29" (http:/ / www. physics. metu. edu. tr/ ~aat/ TSE2006/ TSE2006. html). Department of Physics at Fizik Bolumu in Turkey. . Retrieved 2008-05-24. [75] Espenak, Fred (1996). "NASA Reference Publication 1349; Venus: Twelve year planetary ephemeris, 1995–2006" (http:/ / sunearth. gsfc. nasa. gov/ eclipse/ TYPE/ venus2. html). Twelve Year Planetary Ephemeris Directory. NASA. . Retrieved 2008-05-24. [76] Walker, John. "Mercury Chaser's Calculator" (http:/ / www. fourmilab. ch/ images/ 3planets/ elongation. html). Fourmilab Switzerland. . Retrieved 2008-05-29. (look at 1964 and 2013) [77] "Mercury Elongation and Distance" (http:/ / home. surewest. net/ kheider/ astro/ Mercury. txt). . Retrieved 2008-05-30. —Numbers generated using the Solar System Dynamics Group, Horizons On-Line Ephemeris System (http:/ / ssd. jpl. nasa. gov/ horizons. cgi?find_body=1& body_group=mb& sstr=1) [78] Kelly, Patrick, ed. (2007). Observer's Handbook 2007. Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. ISBN 0-9738109-3-9. [79] Alers, Paul E. (March 17, 2011). "Celebrating Mercury Orbit" (http:/ / www. nasa. gov/ multimedia/ imagegallery/ image_feature_1897. html). NASA Multimedia. . Retrieved 2011-03-18. [80] "NASA spacecraft now circling Mercury – a first" (http:/ / www. msnbc. msn. com/ id/ 42142053/ ns/ technology_and_science-space/ t/ nasa-spacecraft-now-circling-mercury-first/ ). MSNBC. Mar 17, 2011. . Retrieved 2011-03-24. [81] Baumgardner, Jeffrey; Mendillo, Michael; Wilson, Jody K. (2000). "A Digital High-Definition Imaging System for Spectral Studies of Extended Planetary Atmospheres. I. Initial Results in White Light Showing Features on the Hemisphere of Mercury Unimaged by Mariner 10". The Astronomical Journal 119 (5): 2458–2464. Bibcode 2000AJ....119.2458B. doi:10.1086/301323. [82] Schaefer, Bradley E. (2007). "The Latitude and Epoch for the Origin of the Astronomical Lore in Mul.Apin". American Astronomical Society Meeting 210, #42.05 (American Astronomical Society) 38: 157. Bibcode 2007AAS...210.4205S. [83] Some sources precede the cuneiform transcription with "MUL". "MUL" is a cuneiform sign that was used in the Sumerian language to designate a star or planet, but it is not considered part of the actual name. The "4" is a reference number in the Sumero-Akkadian transliteration system to designate which of several syllables a certain cuneiform sign is most likely designating. [84] Hunger, Hermann; Pingree, David (1989). "MUL.APIN: An Astronomical Compendium in Cuneiform". Archiv für Orientforschung (Austria: Verlag Ferdinand Berger & Sohne Gesellschaft MBH) 24: 146. [85] Staff (2008). "MESSENGER: Mercury and Ancient Cultures" (http:/ / btc. montana. edu/ messenger/ elusive_planet/ ancient_cultures_2. php). NASA JPL. . Retrieved 2008-04-07. [86] H.G. Liddell and R. Scott; rev. H.S. Jones and R. McKenzie (1996). Greek–English Lexicon, with a Revised Supplement (9th ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 690 and 1646. ISBN 0-19-864226-1. [87] "Greek Names of the Planets" (http:/ / www. greek-names. info/ greek-names-of-the-planets/ ). . Retrieved 2012-07-14. "Ermis is the Greek name of the planet Mercury, which is the closest planet to the sun. It is named after the Greek God of commerce, Ermis or Hermes, who was also the messenger of the Ancient Greek gods." See also the Greek article about the planet (http:/ / el. wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Ερμής_(πλανήτης)). [88] Dunne, J. A.; Burgess, E. (1978). "Chapter One" (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-424/ ch1. htm). The Voyage of Mariner 10 – Mission to Venus and Mercury (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-424/ ). NASA History Office. . [89] Antoniadi, Eugène Michel; Translated from French by Moore, Patrick (1974). The Planet Mercury. Shaldon, Devon: Keith Reid Ltd. pp. 9–11. ISBN 0-904094-02-2. [90] Duncan, John Charles (1946). Astronomy: A Textbook. Harper & Brothers. p. 125. "The symbol for Mercury represents the Caduceus, a wand with two serpents twined around it, which was carried by the messenger of the gods." [91] Goldstein, Bernard R. (1996). "The Pre-telescopic Treatment of the Phases and Apparent Size of Venus". Journal for the History of Astronomy 27: 1. Bibcode 1996JHA....27....1G. [92] Kelley, David H.; Milone, E. F.; Aveni, Anthony F. (2004). Exploring Ancient Skies: An Encyclopedic Survey of Archaeoastronomy. Birkhäuser. ISBN 0-387-95310-8. [93] China: De Groot, Jan Jakob Maria (1912). Religion in China: universism. a key to the study of Taoism and Confucianism (http:/ / books. google. com/ books?id=ZAaP7dyjCrAC& pg=PA300). 10. G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 300. . Retrieved 2010-01-08. Japan: Crump, Thomas (1992). The Japanese numbers game: the use and understanding of numbers in modern Japan. Routledge. pp. 39–40. ISBN 0415056098. Korea: Hulbert, Homer Bezaleel (1909). The passing of Korea (http:/ / books. google. com/ books?id=fxwpAAAAYAAJ& pg=PA426). Doubleday, Page & company. p. 426. . Retrieved 2010-01-08. [94] Pujari, R.M.; Kolhe, Pradeep; Kumar, N. R. (2006). Pride of India: A Glimpse Into India's Scientific Heritage. Samskrita Bharati. ISBN 81-87276-27-4. [95] Bakich, Michael E. (2000). The Cambridge Planetary Handbook. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-63280-3. [96] Milbrath, Susan (1999). Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore and Calendars. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-75226-1. [97] Samsó, Julio; Mielgo, Honorino; Honorino (1994). "Ibn al-Zarqālluh on Mercury". Journal for the History of Astronomy 25: 289–96 [292]. Bibcode 1994JHA....25..289S.


[98] Hartner, Willy (1955). "The Mercury Horoscope of Marcantonio Michiel of Venice". Vistas in Astronomy 1: 84–138. Bibcode 1955VA......1...84H. doi:10.1016/0083-6656(55)90016-7. at pp. 118–122. [99] Ansari, S. M. Razaullah (2002). "History of oriental astronomy: proceedings of the joint discussion-17 at the 23rd General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, organised by the Commission 41 (History of Astronomy), held in Kyoto, August 25–26, 1997". Springer. p. 137. ISBN 1-4020-0657-8. [100] Goldstein, Bernard R. (1969). "Some Medieval Reports of Venus and Mercury Transits". Centaurus 14 (1): 49–59. Bibcode 1969Cent...14...49G. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0498.1969.tb00135.x. [101] Ramasubramanian, K.; Srinivas, M. S.; Sriram, M. S. (1994). "Modification of the Earlier Indian Planetary Theory by the Kerala Astronomers (c. 1500 AD) and the Implied Heliocentric Picture of Planetary Motion" (http:/ / www. physics. iitm. ac. in/ ~labs/ amp/ kerala-astronomy. pdf). Current Science 66: 784–790. . Retrieved 2010-04-23. [102] Sinnott, RW; Meeus; Meeus, J (1986). "John Bevis and a Rare Occultation". Sky and Telescope 72: 220. Bibcode 1986S&T....72..220S. [103] Ferris, Timothy (2003). Seeing in the Dark: How Amateur Astronomers. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-684-86580-7. [104] Colombo, G.; Shapiro; Shapiro, I. I. (11/1965). "The Rotation of the Planet Mercury". SAO Special Report #188R 188. Bibcode 1965SAOSR.188.....C. [105] Holden, E. S. (1890). "Announcement of the Discovery of the Rotation Period of Mercury [by Professor Schiaparelli]". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 2 (7): 79. Bibcode 1890PASP....2...79H. doi:10.1086/120099. [106] Merton E. Davies, et al. (1978). "Surface Mapping" (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-423/ surface. htm). Atlas of Mercury (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-423/ sp423. htm). NASA Office of Space Sciences. . Retrieved 2008-05-28. [107] Evans, J. V.; Brockelman, R. A.; Henry, J. C.; Hyde, G. M.; Kraft, L. G.; Reid, W. A.; Smith, W. W. (1965). "Radio Echo Observations of Venus and Mercury at 23 cm Wavelength". Astronomical Journal 70: 487–500. Bibcode 1965AJ.....70..486E. doi:10.1086/109772. [108] Moore, Patrick (2000). The Data Book of Astronomy (http:/ / books. google. com/ books?q=kotelnikov+ 1962+ mercury& btnG=Search+ Books). New York: CRC Press. p. 483. ISBN 0-7503-0620-3. . [109] Butrica, Andrew J. (1996). "Chapter 5" (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-4218/ ch5. htm). To See the Unseen: A History of Planetary Radar Astronomy (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-4218/ sp4218. htm). NASA History Office, Washington D.C.. ISBN 0-16-048578-9. . [110] Pettengill, G. H.; Dyce, R. B. (1965). "A Radar Determination of the Rotation of the Planet Mercury". Nature 206 (1240): 451–2. Bibcode 1965Natur.206Q1240P. doi:10.1038/2061240a0. [111] Mercury (http:/ / scienceworld. wolfram. com/ astronomy/ Mercury. html) at Eric Weisstein's 'World of Astronomy' [112] Murray, Bruce C.; Burgess, Eric (1977). Flight to Mercury. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-03996-4. [113] Colombo, G. (1965). "Rotational Period of the Planet Mercury". Nature 208 (5010): 575. Bibcode 1965Natur.208..575C. doi:10.1038/208575a0. [114] Davies, Merton E. et al. (1976). "Mariner 10 Mission and Spacecraft" (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-423/ mariner. htm). SP-423 Atlas of Mercury. NASA JPL. . Retrieved 2008-04-07. [115] Golden, Leslie M., A Microwave Interferometric Study of the Subsurface of the Planet Mercury (1977). PhD Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley [116] Mitchell, David L. and De Pater, Imke, Microwave Imaging of Mercury's Thermal Emission at Wavelengths from 0.3 to 20.5 cm (1994). Icarus, 110, 2–32 [117] Dantowitz, R. F.; Teare, S. W.; Kozubal, M. J. (2000). "Ground-based High-Resolution Imaging of Mercury". Astronomical Journal 119 (4): 2455–2457. Bibcode 2000AJ....119.2455D. doi:10.1086/301328. [118] L. V. Ksanfomality (2006). "Earth-based optical imaging of Mercury". Advances in Space Research 38 (4): 594. Bibcode 2006AdSpR..38..594K. doi:10.1016/j.asr.2005.05.071. [119] Harmon, J. K. et al. (2007). "Mercury: Radar images of the equatorial and midlatitude zones". Icarus 187 (2): 374. Bibcode 2007Icar..187..374H. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2006.09.026. [120] Dunne, J. A. and Burgess, E. (1978). "Chapter Four" (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-424/ ch4. htm). The Voyage of Mariner 10 – Mission to Venus and Mercury (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-424/ ). NASA History Office. . Retrieved 2008-05-28. [121] "Mercury" (http:/ / solarsystem. jpl. nasa. gov/ planets/ profile. cfm?Object=Mercury& Display=OverviewLong). NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. May 5, 2008. . Retrieved 2008-05-29. [122] Leipold, M.; Seboldt, W.; Lingner, S.; Borg, E.; Herrmann, A.; Pabsch, A.; Wagner, O.; Bruckner, J. (1996). "Mercury sun-synchronous polar orbiter with a solar sail". Acta Astronautica 39 (1): 143–151. doi:10.1016/S0094-5765(96)00131-2. [123] Phillips, Tony (October 1976). "NASA 2006 Transit of Mercury" (http:/ / www. nasa. gov/ vision/ universe/ solarsystem/ 20oct_transitofmercury. html). SP-423 Atlas of Mercury. NASA. . Retrieved 2008-04-07. [124] "BepiColumbo – Background Science" (http:/ / sci. esa. int/ science-e/ www/ category/ index. cfm?fcategoryid=4586). European Space Agency. . Retrieved 2008-05-30. [125] Tariq Malik (August 16, 2004). "MESSENGER to test theory of shrinking Mercury" (http:/ / www. usatoday. com/ tech/ news/ 2004-08-16-mercury-may-shrink_x. htm). USA Today. . Retrieved 2008-05-23. [126] Merton E. Davies, et al. (1978). "Mariner 10 Mission and Spacecraft" (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-423/ mariner. htm). Atlas of Mercury (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-423/ sp423. htm). NASA Office of Space Sciences. . Retrieved 2008-05-30. [127] Ness, Norman F. (1978). "Mercury – Magnetic field and interior". Space Science Reviews 21 (5): 527–553. Bibcode 1978SSRv...21..527N. doi:10.1007/BF00240907.


[128] Dunne, J. A. and Burgess, E. (1978). "Chapter Eight" (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-424/ ch8. htm). The Voyage of Mariner 10 – Mission to Venus and Mercury (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-424/ ). NASA History Office. . [129] Grayzeck, Ed (April 2, 2008). "Mariner 10" (http:/ / nssdc. gsfc. nasa. gov/ nmc/ spacecraftDisplay. do?id=1973-085A). NSSDC Master Catalog. NASA. . Retrieved 2008-04-07. [130] "MESSENGER Engine Burn Puts Spacecraft on Track for Venus" (http:/ / www. spaceref. com/ news/ viewsr. html?pid=18956). SpaceRef.com. 2005. . Retrieved 2006-03-02. [131] "Countdown to MESSENGER's Closest Approach with Mercury" (http:/ / messenger. jhuapl. edu/ gallery/ sciencePhotos/ image. php?gallery_id=2& image_id=115). Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. January 14, 2008. . Retrieved 2008-05-30. [132] "MESSENGER Gains Critical Gravity Assist for Mercury Orbital Observations" (http:/ / messenger. jhuapl. edu/ news_room/ details. php?id=136). MESSENGER Mission News. September 30, 2009. . Retrieved 2009-09-30. [133] "NASA extends spacecraft's Mercury mission" (http:/ / www. upi. com/ Top_News/ US/ 2011/ 11/ 15/ NASA-extends-spacecrafts-Mercury-mission/ UPI-55131321408343/ ). UPI, 15 November 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-16. [134] "ESA gives go-ahead to build BepiColombo" (http:/ / www. esa. int/ esaSC/ SEMC8XBE8YE_index_0. html). European Space Agency. February 26, 2007. . Retrieved 2008-05-29. [135] Fleming, Nic (January 18, 2008). "Star Trek-style ion engine to fuel Mercury craft" (http:/ / www. telegraph. co. uk/ science/ science-news/ 3322276/ Star-Trek-style-ion-engine-to-fuel-Mercury-craft. html). The Telegraph. . Retrieved 2008-05-23. [136] "Objectives" (http:/ / sci. esa. int/ science-e/ www/ object/ index. cfm?fobjectid=31350). European Space Agency. February 21, 2006. . Retrieved 2008-05-29. [137] Beck, Roger (2007). A Brief History of Ancient Astrology. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 84–87. ISBN 1-4051-1074-0. [138] Davies, Merton E; et al. (October 1976). "Antoniadi's Map of Mercury" (http:/ / history. nasa. gov/ SP-423/ p15a. htm). SP-423 Atlas of Mercury. NASA. . Retrieved 2010-08-09.


References External links
• Atlas of Mercury—NASA (http://history.nasa.gov/SP-423/sp423.htm) • Gazeteer of Planetary Nomenclature – Mercury (USGS) (http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/jsp/ SystemSearch2.jsp?System=Mercury) • SolarViews.com—Mercury (http://www.solarviews.com/eng/mercury.htm) • Astronomy Cast: Mercury (http://www.astronomycast.com/astronomy/episode-49-mercury/) • Geody Mercury (http://www.geody.com/?world=mercury) World’s search engine that supports NASA World Wind, Celestia, and other applications. • A Day On Mercury (http://btc.montana.edu/MESSENGER/Interactives/ANIMATIONS/Day_On_Mercury/ day_on_mercury_full.htm) flash animation • Mercury articles in Planetary Science Research Discoveries (http://www.psrd.hawaii.edu/Archive/ Archive-Mercury.html) • ‘BepiColombo’, ESA’s Mercury Mission (http://www.esa.int/export/esaSC/120391_index_0_m.html) • ‘Messenger’, NASA’s Mercury Mission (http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/)




Venus in true color. The surface is obscured by a thick blanket of clouds.
Designations Pronunciation Adjective


Venusian or (rarely) Cytherean, Venerean Orbital characteristics Epoch J2000

Aphelion Perihelion Semi-major axis Eccentricity Orbital period

• • • • • •

108,942,109 km 0.728 231 28 AU 107,476,259 km 0.718 432 70 AU 108,208,930 km 0.723 332 AU

0.006 8
• • •

224.700 69 day 0.615 197 0 yr 1.92 Venus solar day

Synodic period Average orbital speed Mean anomaly Inclination

583.92 days 35.02 km/s 50.44675°
• • •

3.394 71° to Ecliptic 3.86° to Sun’s equator [2] 2.19° to Invariable plane

Longitude of ascending node Argument of perihelion Satellites

76.670 69° 54.852 29° None Physical characteristics

Mean radius

• •

6,051.8 ± 1.0 km 0.949 9 Earths




Flattening Surface area

• • • • • •

4.60×108 km2 0.902 Earths 9.38×1011 km3 0.866 Earths 4.868 5×1024 kg 0.815 Earths



Mean density Equatorial surface gravity

5.204 g/cm3
• •

8.87 m/s2 0.904 g

Escape velocity Sidereal rotation period Equatorial rotation velocity Axial tilt North pole right ascension

10.46 km/s −243.018 5 day (Retrograde) 6.52 km/h (unknown operator: u'strong' m/s) 177.3°
• • [1]

18 h 11 min 2 s [4] 272.76°

North pole declination Albedo

• •

0.67 (geometric) [5] 0.90 (Bond) min mean 735 K


Surface temp.    Kelvin    Celsius


460 °C Apparent magnitude

• •

brightest −4.9 [10] −3.8 (full)


Angular diameter

9.7"–66.0" Atmosphere

Surface pressure Composition

93 bar (9.3 MPa)
• • • • • • • • • • •

~96.5% carbon dioxide ~3.5% nitrogen 0.015% sulfur dioxide 0.007% argon 0.002% water vapor 0.001 7% carbon monoxide 0.001 2% helium 0.000 7% neon trace carbonyl sulfide trace hydrogen chloride trace hydrogen fluoride

Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days.[6] The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an

Venus apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows.[1] Because Venus is an inferior planet from Earth, it never appears to venture far from the Sun: its elongation reaches a maximum of 47.8°. Venus reaches its maximum brightness shortly before sunrise or shortly after sunset, for which reason it has been known in ancient time as the Morning Star or Evening Star. It was not until the Hellenistic era (300-200 BC) astronomers realised it was one object and gave it the name it has today. Venus is classified as a terrestrial planet and it is sometimes called Earth's "sister planet" owing to their similar size, gravity, and bulk composition (Venus is both the closest planet to Earth and the planet closest in size to Earth). It is covered with an opaque layer of highly reflective clouds of sulfuric acid, preventing its surface from being seen from space in visible light. Venus has the most dense atmosphere of all the terrestrial planets in the Solar System, consisting of mostly carbon dioxide. The atmospheric pressure at the planet's surface is 92 times that of the Earth. Venus has no carbon cycle to lock carbon back into rocks and surface features, nor does it seem to have any organic life to absorb it in biomass. Venus is believed to have previously possessed oceans,[2] but these evaporated as the temperature rose owing to the runaway greenhouse effect.[3] The water has most probably photodissociated, and, because of the lack of a planetary magnetic field, the free hydrogen has been swept into interplanetary space by the solar wind.[4] Venus' surface is a dry desertscape with many slab-like rocks, periodically refreshed by volcanism.


Physical characteristics
Venus is one of the four solar terrestrial planets, meaning that, like the Earth, it is a rocky body. In size and mass, it is similar to the Earth, and is often described as Earth's "sister" or "twin".[5] The diameter of Venus is 12,092 km (only 650 km less than the Earth's) and its mass is 81.5% of the Earth's. Conditions on the Venusian surface differ radically from those on Earth, owing to its dense carbon dioxide atmosphere. The mass of the atmosphere of Venus is 96.5% carbon dioxide, with most of the remaining 3.5% being nitrogen.[6]

The Venusian surface was a subject of speculation until some of its secrets were revealed by planetary science in the 20th century. It was finally mapped in detail by Project Magellan in 1990–91. The ground shows evidence of extensive volcanism, and the sulfur in the atmosphere may indicate there have been some recent eruptions.[7][8] About 80% of the Venusian surface is covered by smooth, volcanic plains, consisting of 70% plains with wrinkle ridges and 10% smooth or lobate plains.[9] Two highland "continents" make up the rest of its surface area, one lying in the planet's northern hemisphere and the other just south of the equator. The northern continent is called Ishtar Terra, after Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love, and is about the size of Australia. Maxwell Montes, the highest mountain on Venus, lies on Ishtar Terra. Its peak is 11 km above the Venusian average surface elevation. The southern continent is called Aphrodite Terra, after the Greek goddess of love, and is the larger of the two highland regions at roughly the size of South America. A network of fractures and faults covers much of this area.[10] The absence of evidence of lava flow accompanying any of the visible caldera remains an enigma. The planet has few impact craters, demonstrating the surface is relatively young, approximately 300–600 million years old.[11][12] In addition to the impact craters, mountains, and valleys commonly found on rocky planets, Venus has a number of unique surface features. Among these are flat-topped volcanic features called "farra", which look somewhat like pancakes and range in size from 20–50 km across, and 100–1,000 m high; radial, star-like fracture systems called "novae"; features with both radial and concentric fractures resembling spider webs, known as "arachnoids"; and "coronae", circular rings of fractures sometimes surrounded by a depression. These features are volcanic in origin.[13] Most Venusian surface features are named after historical and mythological women.[14] Exceptions are Maxwell Montes, named after James Clerk Maxwell, and highland regions Alpha Regio, Beta Regio and Ovda Regio. The former three features were named before the current system was adopted by the International Astronomical Union, the body that oversees planetary nomenclature.[15]

Venus The longitudes of physical features on Venus are expressed relative to its prime meridian. The original prime meridian passed through the radar-bright spot at the center of the oval feature Eve, located south of Alpha Regio.[16] After the Venera missions were completed, the prime meridian was redefined to pass through the central peak in the crater Ariadne.[17][18]


Surface geology
Much of the Venusian surface appears to have been shaped by volcanic activity. Venus has several times as many volcanoes as Earth, and it possesses some 167 large volcanoes that are over 100 km across. The only volcanic complex of this size on Earth is the Big Island of Hawaii.[13] This is not because Venus is more volcanically active than Earth, but because its crust is older. Earth's oceanic crust is continually recycled by subduction at the boundaries of tectonic plates, and has an average age of about 100 million years,[19] while the Venusian surface is estimated to be 300–600 million years old.[11][13] Several lines of evidence point to ongoing volcanic activity on Venus. During the Soviet Venera program, the Venera 11 and Venera 12 Global radar view of the surface from Magellan probes detected a constant stream of lightning, and Venera 12 recorded radar imaging between 1990-1994 a powerful clap of thunder soon after it landed. The European Space Agency's Venus Express recorded abundant lightning in the high atmosphere.[20] While rainfall drives thunderstorms on Earth, there is no rainfall on the surface of Venus (though it does rain sulfuric acid, in the upper atmosphere, which evaporates around 25 km above the surface). One possibility is ash from a volcanic eruption was generating the lightning. Another piece of evidence comes from measurements of sulfur dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, which were found to drop by a factor of 10 between 1978 and 1986. This may imply the levels had earlier been boosted by a large volcanic eruption.[21] Almost a thousand impact craters on Venus are evenly distributed across its surface. On other cratered bodies, such as the Earth and the Moon, craters show a range of states of degradation. On the Moon, degradation is caused by subsequent impacts, while on Earth, it is caused by wind and rain erosion. On Venus, about 85% of the craters are in pristine condition. The number of craters, together with their well-preserved condition, indicates the planet underwent a global resurfacing event about 300–600 million years ago,[11][12] followed by a decay in volcanism.[22] Earth's crust is in continuous motion, Venus is thought to be unable to sustain such a process. Without plate Impact craters on the surface of Venus (image reconstructed from radar data) tectonics to dissipate heat from its mantle, Venus instead undergoes a cyclical process in which mantle temperatures rise until they reach a critical level that weakens the crust. Then, over a period of about 100 million years, subduction occurs on an enormous scale, completely recycling the crust.[13] Venusian craters range from 3 km to 280 km in diameter. No craters are smaller than 3 km, because of the effects of the dense atmosphere on incoming objects. Objects with less than a certain kinetic energy are slowed down so much by the atmosphere, they do not create an impact crater.[23] Incoming projectiles less than 50 meters in diameter will fragment and burn up in the atmosphere before reaching the ground.[24]



Internal structure
Without seismic data or knowledge of its moment of inertia, little direct information is available about the internal structure and geochemistry of Venus.[25] The similarity in size and density between Venus and Earth suggests they share a similar internal structure: a core, mantle, and crust. Like that of Earth, the Venusian core is at least partially liquid because the two planets have been cooling at about the same rate.[26] The slightly smaller size of Venus suggests pressures are significantly lower in its deep interior than Earth. The principal difference between the two planets is the lack of evidence for plate tectonics on Venus, possibly because its crust is too strong to subduct without water to make it less viscous. This results in reduced heat loss from the planet, preventing it from cooling and providing a likely explanation for its lack of an internally generated magnetic field.[27] Instead, Venus may lose its internal heat in periodic major resurfacing events.[11]

Atmosphere and climate
Venus has an extremely dense atmosphere, which consists mainly of carbon dioxide and a small amount of nitrogen. The atmospheric mass is 93 times that of Earth's atmosphere, while the pressure at the planet's surface is about 92 times that at Earth's surface—a pressure equivalent to that at a depth of nearly 1 kilometer under Earth's oceans. The density at the surface is 65 kg/m³ (6.5% that of water). The CO2-rich atmosphere, along with thick clouds of sulfur dioxide, generates the strongest greenhouse effect in the Solar System, creating surface temperatures of over 460 °C (unknown operator: u'strong' °F).[28] This makes the Venusian surface hotter than Mercury's, which has a minimum surface temperature of −220 °C and maximum surface temperature of 420 °C,[29] even though Venus is nearly twice Mercury's distance from the Sun and thus receives only 25% of Mercury's solar irradiance. The surface of Venus is often said to resemble traditional accounts of Hell.[30]

Cloud structure in the Venusian atmosphere in 1979, revealed by ultraviolet observations by Pioneer Venus Orbiter

Studies have suggested that billions of years ago, the Venusian atmosphere was much more like Earth's than it is now, and that there were probably substantial quantities of liquid water on the surface, but, after a period of 600 million to several billion years,[31] a runaway greenhouse effect was caused by the evaporation of that original water, which generated a critical level of greenhouse gases in its atmosphere.[32] Although the surface conditions on the planet are no longer hospitable to any Earthlike life that may have formed prior to this event, the possibility that a habitable niche still exists in the lower and middle cloud layers of Venus can not yet be excluded.[33] Thermal inertia and the transfer of heat by winds in the lower atmosphere mean that the temperature of the Venusian surface does not vary significantly between the night and day sides, despite the planet's extremely slow rotation. Winds at the surface are slow, moving at a few kilometers per hour, but because of the high density of the atmosphere at the Venusian surface, they exert a significant amount of force against obstructions, and transport dust and small stones across the surface. This alone would make it difficult for a human to walk through, even if the heat and lack of oxygen were not a problem.[34] Above the dense CO2 layer are thick clouds consisting mainly of sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid droplets.[35][36] These clouds reflect and scatter about 90% of the sunlight that falls on them back into space, and prevent visual observation of the Venusian surface. The permanent cloud cover means that although Venus is closer than Earth to the Sun, the Venusian surface is not as well lit. Strong 300 km/h winds at the cloud tops circle the planet about every four to five earth days.[37] Venusian winds move at up to 60 times the speed of the planet's rotation, while Earth's fastest winds are only 10% to 20% rotation speed.[38]

Venus The surface of Venus is effectively isothermal; it retains a constant temperature not only between day and night but between the equator and the poles.[1][39] The planet's minute axial tilt (less than three degrees, compared with 23 degrees for Earth), also minimizes seasonal temperature variation.[40] The only appreciable variation in temperature occurs with altitude. In 1995, the Magellan probe imaged a highly reflective substance at the tops of the highest mountain peaks that bore a strong resemblance to terrestrial snow. This substance arguably formed from a similar process to snow, albeit at a far higher temperature. Too volatile to condense on the surface, it rose in gas form to cooler higher elevations, where it then fell as precipitation. The identity of this substance is not known with certainty, but speculation has ranged from elemental tellurium to lead sulfide (galena).[41] The clouds of Venus are capable of producing lightning much like the clouds on Earth.[42] The existence of lightning had been controversial since the first suspected bursts were detected by the Soviet Venera probes. In 2006–07 Venus Express clearly detected whistler mode waves, the signatures of lightning. Their intermittent appearance indicates a pattern associated with weather activity. The lightning rate is at least half of that on Earth.[42] In 2007 the Venus Express probe discovered that a huge double atmospheric vortex exists at the south pole of the planet.[43][44] Another discovery made by the Venus Express probe in 2011 is that an ozone layer exists high in the atmosphere of Venus.[45]


Magnetic field and core
In 1967, Venera-4 found the Venusian magnetic field is much weaker than that of Earth. This magnetic field is induced by an interaction between the ionosphere and the solar wind,[46][47] rather than by an internal dynamo in the core like the one inside the Earth. Venus's small induced magnetosphere provides negligible protection to the atmosphere against cosmic radiation. This radiation may result in cloud-to-cloud lightning discharges.[48]

Size comparison of terrestrial planets (left to right): Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars

The lack of an intrinsic magnetic field at Venus was surprising given it is similar to Earth in size, and was expected also to contain a dynamo at its core. A dynamo requires three things: A conducting liquid, rotation, and convection. The core is thought to be electrically conductive and, while its rotation is often thought to be too slow, simulations show it is adequate to produce a dynamo.[49][50] This implies the dynamo is missing because of a lack of convection in the Venusian core. On Earth, convection occurs in the liquid outer layer of the core because the bottom of the liquid layer is much hotter than the top. On Venus, a global resurfacing event may have shut down plate tectonics and led to a reduced heat flux through the crust. This caused the mantle temperature to increase, thereby reducing the heat flux out of the core. As a result, no internal geodynamo is available to drive a magnetic field. Instead, the heat energy from the core is being used to reheat the crust.[51] One possibility is Venus has no solid inner core,[52] or its core is not currently cooling, so the entire liquid part of the core is at approximately the same temperature. Another possibility is its core has already completely solidified. The state of the core is highly dependent on the concentration of sulfur, which is unknown at present.[51] The weak magnetosphere around Venus means the solar wind is interacting directly with the outer atmosphere of the planet. Here, ions of hydrogen and oxygen are being created by the dissociation of neutral molecules from ultraviolet radiation. The solar wind then supplies energy that gives some of these ions sufficient velocity to escape the planet's gravity field. This erosion process results in a steady loss of low-mass hydrogen, helium, and oxygen ions, while higher-mass molecules, such as carbon dioxide, are more likely to be retained. Atmospheric erosion by the solar wind most probably led to the loss of most of the planet's water during the first billion years after it formed. The erosion has increased the ratio of higher-mass deuterium to lower-mass hydrogen in the upper atmosphere by a multiple of 150 times the ratio in the lower atmosphere.[53]



Orbit and rotation
Venus orbits the Sun at an average distance of about 0.72 AU (unknown operator: u'strong' km; unknown operator: u'strong' mi), and completes an orbit every 224.65 days. Although all planetary orbits are elliptical, Venus is the closest to circular, with an eccentricity of less than 0.01.[1] When Venus lies between the Earth and the Sun, a position known as inferior conjunction, it makes the closest approach to Earth of any planet at an average distance of 41 million km.[1] The planet reaches inferior conjunction every 584 days, on average.[1] Owing to the decreasing eccentricity of Earth's orbit, the minimum distances will become greater over tens of thousands of years. From the year 1 to 5383, 526 approaches less than 40 million km happen; then happen none for about 60,158 years.[54] During periods of greater eccentricity, Venus can come as close as 38.2 million km.[1]

All the planets of the Solar System orbit the Sun in a counter-clockwise direction as viewed from above the Sun's north pole. Most planets also rotate on their axis in a counter-clockwise direction, but Venus rotates clockwise (called "retrograde" rotation) once every 243 Earth days—by far the slowest rotation period of any major planet. The equator of the Venusian surface rotates at 6.5 km/h, while on Earth rotation speed at the equator is about 1,670 km/h.[55] A Venusian sidereal day thus lasts longer than a Venusian year (243 versus 224.7 Earth days). Because of the retrograde rotation, the length of a solar day on Venus is significantly shorter than the sidereal day. As a result of Venus's relatively long solar day, one Venusian year is about 1.92 Venusian days long.[7] To an observer on the surface of Venus, the Sun would appear to rise in the west and set in the east and the time from one sunrise to the next would be 116.75 Earth days (making the Venusian solar day shorter than Mercury's 176 Earth days).[7] Venus may have formed from the solar nebula with a different rotation period and obliquity, reaching to its current state because of chaotic spin changes caused by planetary perturbations and tidal effects on its dense atmosphere, a change that would have occurred over the course of billions of years. The rotation period of Venus may represent an equilibrium state between tidal locking to the Sun's gravitation, which tends to slow rotation, and an atmospheric tide created by solar heating of the thick Venusian atmosphere.[56][57] A curious aspect of the Venusian orbit and rotation periods is the 584-day average interval between successive close approaches to the Earth is almost exactly equal to five Venusian solar days.[58] However, the hypothesis of a spin–orbit resonance with Earth has been discounted.[59] Venus currently has no natural satellite,[60] though the asteroid 2002 VE68 presently maintains a quasi-orbital relationship with it.[61] In the 17th century, Giovanni Cassini reported a moon orbiting Venus, which was named Neith and numerous sightings were reported over the following 200 years, but most were determined to be stars in the vicinity. Alex Alemi's and David Stevenson's 2006 study of models of the early Solar System at the California Institute of Technology shows Venus likely had at least one moon created by a huge impact event billions of years ago.[62][63] About 10 million years later, according to the study, another impact reversed the planet's spin direction and caused the Venusian moon gradually to spiral inward[64] until it collided and merged with Venus. If later impacts created moons, these also were absorbed in the same way. An alternative explanation for the lack of satellites is the effect of strong solar tides, which can destabilize large satellites orbiting the inner terrestrial planets.[60]

Venus orbits the Sun at an average distance of about 108 million kilometers (about 0.7 AU) and completes an orbit every 224.65 days. Venus is the second planet from the Sun and it revolves round the Sun approximately 1.6 times (yellow trail) in Earth's 365 days (blue trail)



Venus is always brighter than any star (apart from the Sun). The greatest luminosity, apparent magnitude −4.9,[9] occurs during crescent phase when it is near the Earth. Venus fades to about magnitude −3 when it is backlit by the Sun.[8] The planet is bright enough to be seen in a mid-day clear sky,[65] and the planet can be easy to see when the Sun is low on the horizon. As an inferior planet, it always lies within about 47° of the Sun.[10] Venus "overtakes" the Earth every 584 days as it orbits the Sun.[1] As it does so, it changes from the "Evening Star", visible after sunset, to the "Morning Star", visible before sunrise. While Mercury, the other inferior planet, reaches a maximum elongation of only 28° and is often difficult to discern in twilight, Venus is hard to miss when it is at its brightest. Its greater maximum elongation means it is visible in dark skies long after sunset. As the brightest point-like object in the sky, Venus is a commonly misreported "unidentified flying object". U.S. President Jimmy Carter reported having seen a UFO in 1969, which later analysis suggested was probably the planet. Countless other people have mistaken Venus for something more exotic.[66]
Venus is always brighter than the brightest stars outside our solar system, as can be seen here over the Pacific Ocean

As it moves around its orbit, Venus displays phases in a telescopic view like those of the Moon: In the phases of Venus, the planet presents a small "full" image when it is on the opposite side of the Sun. It shows a larger "quarter phase" when it is at its maximum elongations Phases of Venus and evolution of its apparent from the Sun, and is at its brightest in the night sky, and presents a diameter much larger "thin crescent" in telescopic views as it comes around to the near side between the Earth and the Sun. Venus is at its largest and presents its "new phase" when it is between the Earth and the Sun. Its atmosphere can be seen in a telescope by the halo of light refracted around the planet.[10]

Transits of Venus
The Venusian orbit is slightly inclined relative to the Earth's orbit; thus, when the planet passes between the Earth and the Sun, it usually does not cross the face of the Sun. Transits of Venus do occur when the planet's inferior conjunction coincides with its presence in the plane of the Earth's orbit. Transits of Venus occur in cycles of 243 years with the current pattern of transits being pairs of transits separated by eight years, at intervals of about 105.5 years or 121.5 years—a pattern first discovered in 1639 by English astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks.[67]
2012 Transit of Venus

The latest pair was June 8, 2004 and June 5–6, 2012. The transit could be watched live from many online outlets or observed locally with the

right equipment and conditions.[68]



The preceding pair of transits occurred in December 1874 and December 1882; the following pair will occur in December 2117 and December 2125.[69] Historically, transits of Venus were important, because they allowed astronomers to directly determine the size of the astronomical unit, and hence the size of the Solar System as shown by Horrocks in 1639.[70] Captain Cook's exploration of the east coast of Australia came after he had sailed to Tahiti in 1768 to observe a transit of Venus.[71][72]

Ashen light
A long-standing mystery of Venus observations is the so-called ashen 2004 transit of Venus light—an apparent weak illumination of the dark side of the planet, seen when the planet is in the crescent phase. The first claimed observation of ashen light was made as long ago as 1643, but the existence of the illumination has never been reliably confirmed. Observers have speculated it may result from electrical activity in the Venusian atmosphere, but it may be illusory, resulting from the physiological effect of observing a bright, crescent-shaped object.[73]

Early studies
Venus was known to ancient civilizations both as the "morning star" and as the "evening star", names that reflect the early understanding that these were two separate objects. The Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa, dated 1581 BC, shows the Babylonians understood the two were a single object, referred to in the tablet as the "bright queen of the sky," and could support this view with detailed observations.[74] The Greeks thought of the two as separate stars, Phosphorus and Hesperus, until the time of Pythagoras in the sixth century BC.[75] The Romans designated the morning aspect of Venus as Lucifer, literally "Light-Bringer", and the evening aspect as Vesper. The first recorded observation of a transit of Venus was made by Jeremiah Horrocks on December 4, 1639 (November 24 under the Julian calendar in use at that time), along with his friend, William Crabtree, at each of their respective homes.[76]

The "black drop effect" as recorded during the 1769 transit


79 When the Italian physicist Galileo Galilei first observed the planet in the early 17th century, he found it showed phases like the Moon, varying from crescent to gibbous to full and vice versa. When Venus is furthest from the Sun in the sky, it shows a half-lit phase, and when it is closest to the Sun in the sky, it shows as a crescent or full phase. This could be possible only if Venus orbited the Sun, and this was among the first observations to clearly contradict the Ptolemaic geocentric model that the Solar System was concentric and centered on the Earth.[77]

The atmosphere of Venus was discovered in 1761 by Russian polymath Mikhail Lomonosov.[78][79] Venus's atmosphere was observed in 1790 by German astronomer Johann Schröter. Schröter found when the planet was a thin crescent, the cusps extended through more than 180°. He correctly surmised this was due to scattering of sunlight in a dense atmosphere. Later, American astronomer Chester Smith Lyman observed a complete ring around the dark side of the planet when it was at inferior conjunction, providing further evidence for an atmosphere.[80] The atmosphere complicated efforts to determine a rotation period for the planet, and observers such as Italian-born astronomer Giovanni Cassini and Schröter incorrectly estimated periods of about 24 hours from the motions of markings on the planet's apparent surface.[81]

Galileo's discovery that Venus showed phases (while remaining near the Sun in our sky) proved that it orbits the Sun and not the Earth

Ground-based research
Little more was discovered about Venus until the 20th century. Its almost featureless disc gave no hint what its surface might be like, and it was only with the development of spectroscopic, radar and ultraviolet observations that more of its secrets were revealed. The first UV observations were carried out in the 1920s, when Frank E. Ross found that UV photographs revealed considerable detail that was absent in visible and infrared radiation. He suggested this was due to a very dense, yellow lower atmosphere with high cirrus clouds above it.[82]
Modern telescopic view of Venus from Earth's

Spectroscopic observations in the 1900s gave the first clues about the surface Venusian rotation. Vesto Slipher tried to measure the Doppler shift of light from Venus, but found he could not detect any rotation. He surmised the planet must have a much longer rotation period than had previously been thought.[83] Later work in the 1950s showed the rotation was retrograde. Radar observations of Venus were first carried out in the 1960s, and provided the first measurements of the rotation period which were close to the modern value.[84] Radar observations in the 1970s revealed details of the Venusian surface for the first time. Pulses of radio waves were beamed at the planet using the 300-m radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory, and the echoes revealed two highly reflective regions, designated the Alpha and Beta regions. The observations also revealed a bright region attributed to mountains, which was called Maxwell Montes.[85] These three features are now the only ones on Venus which do not have female names.[86]



Early efforts
The first robotic space probe mission to Venus, and the first to any planet, began on February 12, 1961, with the launch of the Venera 1 probe. The first craft of the otherwise highly successful Soviet Venera program, Venera 1 was launched on a direct impact trajectory, but contact was lost seven days into the mission, when the probe was about 2 million km from Earth. It was estimated to have passed within 100,000 km of Venus in mid-May.[87] The United States exploration of Venus also started badly with the loss of the Mariner 1 probe on launch. The subsequent Mariner 2 mission Mariner 2, launched in 1962 enjoyed greater success, and after a 109-day transfer orbit on December 14, 1962, it became the world's first successful interplanetary mission, passing 34,833 km above the surface of Venus. Its microwave and infrared radiometers revealed that while the Venusian cloud tops were cool, the surface was extremely hot—at least 425°C, finally ending any hopes that the planet might harbor ground-based life. Mariner 2 also obtained improved estimates of its mass and of the astronomical unit, but was unable to detect either a magnetic field or radiation belts.[88]

Atmospheric entry
The Soviet Venera 3 probe crash-landed on Venus on March 1, 1966. It was the first man-made object to enter the atmosphere and strike the surface of another planet, though its communication system failed before it was able to return any planetary data.[89] On October 18, 1967, Venera 4 successfully entered the atmosphere and deployed a number of science experiments. Venera 4 showed the surface temperature was even hotter than Mariner 2 had measured at almost 500°C, and the atmosphere was about 90 to 95% carbon dioxide. The Venusian atmosphere was considerably denser than Venera 4's designers had anticipated, and its slower than intended parachute descent meant its batteries ran down before the probe reached the surface. After returning descent data for 93 minutes, Venera 4's last pressure reading was 18 bar at an altitude of 24.96 km.[89] One day later on October 19, 1967, Mariner 5 conducted a fly-by at a Pioneer Venus Multiprobe distance of less than 4000 km above the cloud tops. Mariner 5 was originally built as backup for the Mars-bound Mariner 4, but when that mission was successful, the probe was refitted for a Venus mission. A suite of instruments more sensitive than those on Mariner 2, in particular its radio occultation experiment, returned data on the composition, pressure and density of the Venusian atmosphere.[90] The joint Venera 4 – Mariner 5 data were analyzed by a combined Soviet-American science team in a series of colloquia over the following year,[91] in an early example of space cooperation.[92] Armed with the lessons and data learned from Venera 4, the Soviet Union launched the twin probes Venera 5 and Venera 6 five days apart in January 1969; they encountered Venus a day apart on May 16 and 17 that year. The probes were strengthened to improve their crush depth to 25 bar and were equipped with smaller parachutes to achieve a faster descent. Since then-current atmospheric models of Venus suggested a surface pressure of between 75 and 100 bar, neither was expected to survive to the surface. After returning atmospheric data for a little over 50

Venus minutes, they both were crushed at altitudes of approximately 20 km before going on to strike the surface on the night side of Venus.[89]


Surface and atmospheric science
Venera 7 represented an effort to return data from the planet's surface, and was constructed with a reinforced descent module capable of withstanding a pressure of 180 bar. The module was precooled before entry and equipped with a specially reefed parachute for a rapid 35-minute descent. While entering the atmosphere on December 15, 1970, the parachute is believed to have partially torn, and the probe struck the surface with a hard, yet not fatal, impact. Probably tilted onto its side, it returned a weak signal, supplying temperature data for 23 minutes, the first telemetry received from the surface of another planet.[89]

The Pioneer Venus orbiter

The Venera program continued with Venera 8 sending data from the surface for 50 minutes, after entering the atmosphere on July 22, 1972. Venera 9, which entered the atmosphere of Venus on October 22, 1975, and Venera 10, which entered the atmosphere three days later on October 25, sent the first images of the Venusian landscape. The two landing sites presented very different terrains in the immediate vicinities of the landers: Venera 9 had landed on a 20-degree slope scattered with boulders around 30–40 cm across; Venera 10 showed basalt-like rock slabs interspersed with weathered material.[93] In the meantime, the United States had sent the Mariner 10 probe on a gravitational slingshot trajectory past Venus on its way to Mercury. On February 5, 1974, Mariner 10 passed within 5790 km of Venus, returning over 4000 photographs as it did so. The images, the best then achieved, showed the planet to be almost featureless in visible light, but ultraviolet light revealed details in the clouds that had never been seen in Earth-bound observations.[94] The American Pioneer Venus project consisted of two separate missions.[95] The Pioneer Venus Orbiter was inserted into an elliptical orbit around Venus on December 4, 1978, and remained there for over 13 years, studying the atmosphere and mapping the surface with radar. The Pioneer Venus Multiprobe released a total of four probes which entered the atmosphere on December 9, 1978, returning data on its composition, winds and heat fluxes.[96] Four more Venera lander missions took place over the next four years, with Venera 11 and Venera 12 detecting Venusian electrical storms;[97] and Venera 13 and Venera 14, landing four days apart on March 1 and March 5, 1982, returning the first color photographs of the surface. All four missions deployed parachutes for braking in the upper atmosphere, but released them at altitudes of 50 km, the dense lower Venera 13 landing site atmosphere providing enough friction to allow for unaided soft landings. Both Venera 13 and 14 analyzed soil samples with an on-board X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, and attempted to measure the compressibility of the soil with an impact probe.[97] Venera 14, though, had the misfortune to strike its own ejected camera lens cap and its probe failed to contact the soil.[97] The Venera program came to a close in October 1983, when Venera 15 and Venera 16 were placed in orbit to conduct mapping of the Venusian terrain with synthetic aperture radar.[98] In 1985, the Soviet Union took advantage of the opportunity to combine missions to Venus and Comet Halley, which passed through the inner Solar System that year. En route to Halley, on June 11 and June 15, 1985, the two spacecraft of the Vega program each dropped a Venera-style probe (of which Vega 1's partially failed) and released a balloon-supported aerobot into the upper atmosphere. The balloons achieved an equilibrium altitude of around 53 km, where pressure and temperature are comparable to those at Earth's surface. They remained operational for

Venus around 46 hours, and discovered the Venusian atmosphere was more turbulent than previously believed, and subject to high winds and powerful convection cells.[99][100]


Radar mapping
Early Earth-based radar provided a basic idea of the surface. The Pioneer Venus and the Veneras provided improved resolution. The United States' Magellan probe was launched on May 4, 1989, with a mission to map the surface of Venus with radar.[15] The high-resolution images it obtained during its 4½ years of operation far surpassed all prior maps and were comparable to visible-light photographs of other planets. Magellan imaged over 98% of the Venusian surface by radar,[101] and mapped 95% of its gravity field. In 1994, at the end of its mission, Magellan was sent to its destruction into the atmosphere of Venus to quantify its density.[102] Venus was observed by the Galileo and Cassini spacecraft during fly-bys on their respective missions to the outer planets, but Magellan would be the last dedicated mission to Venus for over a decade.[103][104]

Magellan radar topographical map of Venus (false color)

Current and future missions
NASA's MESSENGER mission to Mercury performed two fly-bys of Venus in October 2006 and June 2007, to slow its trajectory for an eventual orbital insertion of Mercury in March 2011. MESSENGER collected scientific data on both those fly-bys.[105] The Venus Express probe was designed and built by the European Space Agency. Launched on November 9, 2005 by a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket procured through Starsem, it successfully assumed a polar orbit around Venus on April 11, 2006.[106] The probe is undertaking a detailed study of the Venusian atmosphere and clouds, including mapping of the planet's plasma environment and surface characteristics, particularly temperatures. One of the first results emerging from Venus Express is the discovery that a huge double atmospheric vortex exists at the south pole of the planet.[106] The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) devised a Venus orbiter, Akatsuki (formerly "Planet-C"), which was launched on May 20, 2010, but the craft failed to enter orbit in December 2010. Hopes remain that the probe can successfully hibernate and make another insertion attempt in six years. Planned investigations included surface imaging with an infrared camera and experiments designed to confirm the presence of lightning, as well as the determination of the existence of current surface volcanism.[108] The European Space Agency (ESA) hopes to launch a mission to Mercury in 2014, called BepiColombo, which will perform two fly-bys of Venus before it reaches Mercury orbit in 2020.[109]
Artist's impression of a Stirling cooled Venus [107] Rover devised by NASA.

Under its New Frontiers Program, NASA has proposed a lander mission called the Venus In-Situ Explorer to land on Venus to study surface conditions and investigate the elemental and mineralogical features of the regolith. The probe would be equipped with a core sampler to drill into the surface and study pristine rock samples not weathered by the harsh surface conditions. A Venus atmospheric and surface probe mission, "Surface and Atmosphere Geochemical Explorer" (SAGE), was selected by NASA as a candidate mission study in the 2009 New Frontiers selection,[110] but

Venus the mission was not selected for flight. The Venera-D (Russian: Венера-Д) probe is a proposed Russian space probe to Venus, to be launched around 2016, with its goal to make remote-sensing observations around the planet Venus and deploying a lander, based on the Venera design, capable of surviving for a long duration on the planet's surface. Other proposed Venus exploration concepts include rovers, balloons, and airplanes.[111]


Manned fly-by concept
A manned Venus fly-by mission, using Apollo program hardware, was proposed in the late 1960s.[112] The mission was planned to launch in late October or early November 1973, and would have used a Saturn V to send three men to fly past Venus in a flight lasting approximately one year. The spacecraft would have passed approximately 5,000 kilometres from the surface of Venus about four months later.[112]

Spacecraft timeline
This is a list of attempted and successful spacecraft that have left Earth to explore Venus more closely.[113] Venus has also been imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope in Earth orbit, and distant telescopic observations is another source of information about Venus.

Timeline by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (up to 2011)[113]
Mission Sputnik 7 Venera 1 Mariner 1 Sputnik 19 Mariner 2 Sputnik 20 Sputnik 21 Cosmos 21 Venera 1964A Venera 1964B Cosmos 27 Zond 1 Venera 2 Venera 3 Cosmos 96 Venera 1965A Venera 4 Mariner 5 Cosmos 167 Venera 5 Venera 6 Venera 7 Launch February 4, 1961 February 12, 1961 July 22, 1962 August 25, 1962 August 27, 1962 September 1, 1962 Elements and Result Impact (attempted) Fly-by (contact lost) Fly-by (launch failure) Fly-by (attempted) Fly-by Fly-by (attempted) Notes

September 12, 1962 Fly-by (attempted) November 11, 1963 February 19, 1964 March 1, 1964 March 27, 1964 April 2, 1964 Fly-by (launch failure) Fly-by (launch failure) Fly-by (attempted) Fly-by (contact lost) Attempted Venera test flight?

November 12, 1965 Fly-by (contact lost) November 16, 1965 Lander (contact lost) November 23, 1965 Lander (attempted?) November 23, 1965 Fly-by (launch failure) June 12, 1967 June 14, 1967 June 17, 1967 January 5, 1969 January 10, 1969 August 17, 1970 Probe Fly-by Probe (attempted) Probe Probe Lander


Cosmos 359 Venera 8 Cosmos 482 Mariner 10 Venera 9 Venera 10 August 22, 1970 March 27, 1972 March 31, 1972 November 4, 1973 June 8, 1975 June 14, 1975 Probe (attempted) Probe Probe (attempted) Fly-by Orbiter and lander Orbiter and lander Orbiter Probes Fly-by bus and lander Mercury fly-by

Pioneer Venus 1 May 20, 1978 Pioneer Venus 2 August 8, 1978 Venera 11 Venera 12 Venera 13 Venera 14 Venera 15 Venera 16 Vega 1 Vega 2 Magellan Galileo Cassini MESSENGER Venus Express Akatsuki BepiColombo September 9, 1978

September 14, 1978 Fly-by bus and lander October 30, 1981 November 4, 1981 June 2, 1983 June 7, 1983 Fly-by bus and lander Fly-by bus and lander Orbiter Orbiter Comet Halley fly-by Comet Halley fly-by

December 15, 1984 Lander and balloon December 21, 1984 Lander and balloon May 4, 1989 October 18, 1989 October 15, 1997 August 3, 2004 November 9, 2005 December 7, 2010 July 2014 Orbiter Fly-by Fly-by Flyby (x2) Orbiter Orbiter (attempted) Fly-by (x2, planned)

Jupiter orbiter/probe Saturn orbiter Mercury orbiter

Possible reattempt in 2016 Planned Mercury orbiter

In culture
The adjective Venusian is commonly used for items related to Venus, though the Latin adjective is the rarely used Venerean; the archaic Cytherean is still occasionally encountered. Venus is the only planet in the Solar System that is named after a female figure.[114] (Three dwarf planets – Ceres, Eris and Haumea – along with many of the first discovered asteroids[115] and a number of moons (such as the Galilean moons) also have feminine names. Earth and its moon also have feminine names in many languages—Gaia/Terra, Selene/Luna—but the female mythological figures who personified them were named after them, not the other way around.)[116]

Clemintine startracker image of the Moon obscuring the Sun, with Venus on top


85 The astronomical symbol for Venus is the same as that used in biology for the female sex: a circle with a small cross beneath.[117] The Venus symbol also represents femininity, and in Western alchemy stood for the metal copper.[117] Polished copper has been used for mirrors from antiquity, and the symbol for Venus has sometimes been understood to stand for the mirror of the goddess.[117]

Cultural understandings
As one of the brightest objects in the sky, Venus has been known since prehistoric times and as such has gained an entrenched position in human culture. It is described in Babylonian cuneiformic texts such as the Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa, which relates observations that possibly date from 1600 BC.[118] The Babylonians named the planet Ishtar (Sumerian Inanna), the personification of womanhood, and goddess of love.[119] She had a dual role as a goddess of war, thereby representing a deity that presided over birth and death.[120] The Ancient Egyptians believed Venus to be two separate bodies and knew the morning star as Tioumoutiri and the evening star as Ouaiti.[121] Likewise, believing Venus to be two bodies, the Ancient Greeks called the morning star Φωσφόρος, Phosphoros (Latinized Phosphorus), the "Bringer of Light" or Ἐωσφόρος, Eosphoros (Latinized Eosphorus), the "Bringer of Dawn". The evening star they called Hesperos (Latinized Hesperus) (Ἓσπερος, the "star of the evening"). By Hellenistic times, the ancient Greeks realized the two were the same planet,[122][123] which they named after their goddess of love, Aphrodite (Αφροδίτη)(Phoenician Astarte),[124] a planetary name which is retained in modern Greek.[125] Hesperos would be translated into Latin as Vesper and Phosphoros as Lucifer ("Light Bearer"), a poetic term later used to refer to the fallen angel cast out of heaven.[126] The Romans, who derived much of their religious pantheon from the Greek tradition, named the planet Venus after their goddess of love.[127] Pliny the Elder (Natural History, ii,37) identified the planet Venus with Isis.[128] In Iranian mythology, especially in Persian mythology, the planet usually corresponds to the goddess Anahita. In some parts of Pahlavi literature the deities Aredvi Sura and Anahita are regarded as separate entities, the first one as a personification of the mythical river and the latter as a goddess of fertility which is associated with the planet Venus. As the goddess Aredvi Sura Anahita—and simply called Anahita as well—both deities are unified in other descriptions, e. g. in the Greater Bundahishn, and are represented by the planet. In the Avestan text Mehr Yasht (Yasht 10) there is a possible early link to Mithra. The Persian name of the planet today is "Nahid" which derives from Anahita and later in history from the Pahlavi language Anahid.[129][130][131][132]



The planet Venus was important to the Maya civilization, who developed a religious calendar based in part upon its motions, and held the motions of Venus to determine the propitious time for events such as war. They named it Noh Ek', the Great Star, and Xux Ek', the Wasp Star. The Maya were aware of the planet's synodic period, and could compute it to within a hundredth part of a day.[133] The Maasai people named the planet Kileken, and have an oral tradition about it called The Orphan Boy.[134] Venus is important in many Australian Rooftop observers of the 2012 Venus transit, in Prague, Czech Republic aboriginal cultures, such as that of the Yolngu people in Northern Australia. The Yolngu gather after sunset to await the rising of Venus, which they call Barnumbirr. As she approaches, in the early hours before dawn, she draws behind her a rope of light attached to the Earth, and along this rope, with the aid of a richly decorated "Morning Star Pole", the people are able to communicate with their dead loved ones, showing that they still love and remember them. Barnumbirr is also an important creator-spirit in the Dreaming, and "sang" much of the country into life.[135] Venus plays a prominent role in Pawnee mythology. The Pawnee, a North American native tribe, until as late as 1838, practiced a morning star ritual in which a girl was sacrificed to the morning star.[136] In the metaphysical system of Theosophy, it is believed that on the etheric plane of Venus there is a civilization that existed hundreds of millions of years before Earth's[137] and it is also believed that the governing deity of Earth, Sanat Kumara, is from Venus.[138]

In literature
The impenetrable Venusian cloud cover gave science fiction writers free rein to speculate on conditions at its surface; all the more so when early observations showed that not only was it similar in size to Earth, it possessed a substantial atmosphere. Closer to the Sun than Earth, the planet was frequently depicted as warmer, but still habitable by humans.[139] The genre reached its peak between the 1930s and 1950s, at a time when science had revealed some aspects of Venus, but not yet the harsh reality of its surface conditions. Findings from the first missions to Venus showed the reality to be quite different, and brought this particular genre to an end.[140] As scientific knowledge of Venus advanced, so science fiction authors endeavored to keep pace, particularly by conjecturing human attempts to terraform Venus.[141] Perhaps the strangest appearance of Venus in literature is as the harbinger of destruction in Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision (1950). In this intensely controversial book, Velikovsky argued that many seemingly unbelievable stories in the Old Testament are true recollections of times when Venus nearly collided with the Earth — when it was still a comet and had not yet become the docile planet that we know today. He contended that Venus caused most of the strange events of the Exodus. He cites legends in many other cultures (such as Greek, Mexican, Chinese and Indian) indicating that the effects of the near-collision were global. The scientific community rejected his wildly unorthodox book, but it became a bestseller.[142]



Owing to its extremely hostile conditions, a surface colony on Venus is out of the question with current technology. However, the atmospheric pressure and temperature approximately fifty kilometres above the surface are similar to those at the Earth's surface and Earth air (nitrogen and oxygen) would be a lifting gas in the Venusian atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide. This has led to proposals for extensive "floating cities" in the Venusian atmosphere.[143] Aerostats (lighter-than-air balloons) could be used for initial exploration and ultimately for permanent settlements.[143] Among the many engineering challenges are the dangerous amounts of sulfuric acid at these heights.[143]

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[112] Feldman, M. S.; Ferrara, L. A.; Havenstein, P. L.; Volonte, J. E.; Whipple, P. H. (1967) (PDF). Manned Venus Flyby, February 1, 1967 (http:/ / ntrs. nasa. gov/ archive/ nasa/ casi. ntrs. nasa. gov/ 19790072165_1979072165. pdf). Bellcomm, Inc.. . [113] Chronology of Venus Exploration (NASA) (http:/ / nssdc. gsfc. nasa. gov/ planetary/ chronology_venus. html) [114] Goddesses such as Gaia and Terra were named after the Earth, and not vice versa. [115] Nicholson, Seth B. (1961). "The Trojan Asteroids". Astronomical Society of the Pacific Leaflets 8: 239. Bibcode 1961ASPL....8..239N. [116] Cessna, Abby. "Mythology of the Planets" (http:/ / www. universetoday. com/ 37122/ mythology-of-the-planets/ ). Universe Today. Fraser Cain. . Retrieved 19 September 2011. [117] Stearn, William (May 1968). "The Origin of the Male and Female Symbols of Biology". Taxon 11 (4): 109–113. doi:10.2307/1217734. JSTOR 1217734. [118] Sachs, A. (1974). "Babylonian Observational Astronomy". 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The Masters and the Path Adyar, Madras, India: 1925—Theosophical Publishing House (in this book, Sanat Kumara is referred to as Lord of the World.) See in index under "Lord of the World". [139] Miller, Ron (2003). Venus. Twenty-First Century Books. p. 12. ISBN 0-7613-2359-7. [140] Dick, Steven (2001). Life on Other Worlds: The 20th-Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate. Cambridge University Press. p. 43. ISBN 0-521-79912-0. [141] Seed, David (2005). A Companion to Science Fiction. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 134–135. ISBN 1-4051-1218-2. [142] Ellenberger, C. Leroy (Winter 1984). "Worlds in Collision in Macmillan's Catalogues" (http:/ / www. catastrophism. com/ cdrom/ pubs/ journals/ kronos/ vol0902/ index. htm). Kronos 9 (2). . Retrieved 2009-05-16. The 20 weeks at the top stated by Juergens in The Velikovsky Affair is incorrect. [143] Landis, Geoffrey A. (2003). "Colonization of Venus" (http:/ / link. aip. org/ link/ ?APCPCS/ 654/ 1193/ 1). AIP Conference Proceedings. 654. pp. 1193–1198. doi:10.1063/1.1541418. .




References External links
• Venus Profile (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Venus) at NASA's Solar System Exploration site (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/) • Missions to Venus (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/planets/venuspage.html) (Hosted by NASA) • Gallery of Venus exploration images (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/imgcat/thumbnail_pages/venus_thumbnails. html) (Hosted by NASA) • The Soviet Exploration of Venus (http://www.mentallandscape.com/V_Venus.htm), Image catalog (http:// www.mentallandscape.com/C_CatalogVenus.htm) • Venus page at The Nine Planets (http://www.nineplanets.org/venus.html) • NASA page about the Venera missions (http://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/heasarc/missions/venera1112. html) • Magellan mission home page (http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/magellan/) • Pioneer Venus information from NASA (http://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/heasarc/missions/pvo.html) • Detailed information about transits of Venus (http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/transit/venus0412.html) • Geody Venus (http://www.geody.com/?world=venus), a search engine for surface features • Maps of Venus in NASA World Wind (http://www.worldwindcentral.com/wiki/Venus) • Chasing Venus, Observing the Transits of Venus (http://www.sil.si.edu/exhibitions/chasing-venus/intro. htm) Smithsonian Institution Libraries • Venus Crater Database (http://www.lpi.usra.edu/resources/vc/vchome.shtml) Lunar and Planetary Institute • Calculate/show the current phase of Venus (http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/diskmap.php) (U.S. Naval Observatory) • Venus (http://www.astronomycast.com/astronomy/episode-50-venus/) Astronomy Cast episode #50, includes full transcript. • Thorsten Dambeck: The Blazing Hell Behind the Veil (http://www.mpg.de/english/ illustrationsDocumentation/multimedia/mpResearch/2009/heft04/pdf12.pdf), MaxPlanckResearch, 4/2009, p. 26–33

Cartographic resources
• PDS Map-a-Planet (http://pdsmaps.wr.usgs.gov/PDS/public/explorer/html/fmappick.htm) • Venus Nomenclature (http://pdsmaps.wr.usgs.gov/PDS/public/explorer/html/fmappick.htm) • Gazeteer of Planetary Nomenclature – Venus (USGS) (http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/jsp/ SystemSearch2.jsp?System=Venus) • Map of Venus (http://planetologia.elte.hu/venusz-terkep-elte-ttk-kavucs.pdf) • Movie of Venus (http://sos.noaa.gov/videos/Venus.mov) at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration




"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken from Apollo 17
Designations Alternative names Terra Orbital characteristics Epoch J2000.0 Aphelion 152,098,232 km [2] 1.01671388 AU 147,098,290 km [2] 0.98329134 AU 149,598,261 km [3] 1.00000261 AU 0.01671123
[3] [4] [1]


Semi-major axis

Eccentricity Orbital period

365.256363004 days 1.000017421 yr 29.78 km/s 107,200 km/h 357.51716°
[5] [5]

Average orbital speed

Mean anomaly Inclination

7.155° to Sun's equator [6] 1.57869° to invariable plane

Longitude of ascending node 348.73936°[5][7] Argument of perihelion Satellites 114.20783°

1 natural (the Moon) [9] 8,300+ artificial (as of 1 March 2001) Physical characteristics

Mean radius

6,371.0 km



Equatorial radius Polar radius Flattening Circumference
[11][12] [13]

6,378.1 km 6,356.8 km 0.0033528

[14] [12]

40,075.017 km (equatorial) [15] 40,007.86 km (meridional)

Surface area

510,072,000 km2 148,940,000 km2 land (29.2 %) 361,132,000 km2 water (70.8 %) 1.08321×1012 km3 5.9736×1024 kg 5.515 g/cm3
[5] [19] [5] [5]

Volume Mass Mean density Equatorial surface gravity

9.780327 m/s2 0.99732 g 11.186 km/s

Escape velocity Sidereal rotation period Equatorial rotation velocity Axial tilt Albedo

[5] [20]

0.99726968 d 23h 56m 4.100s

1674.4 km/h (unknown operator: u'strong' m/s) 23°26'21".4119
[4] [5]


0.367 (geometric) [5] 0.306 (Bond) min 184 K

Surface temp.    Kelvin    Celsius

mean 287.2 K

max 331 K

−89.2 °C 14 °C Atmosphere Surface pressure Composition 101.325 kPa (MSL)

57.8 °C

78.08% nitrogen (N2) 20.95% oxygen (O2) 0.93% argon 0.038% carbon dioxide About 1% water vapor (varies with climate)


Earth (or the Earth) is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets. It is sometimes referred to as the world, the Blue Planet,[25] or by its Latin name, Terra.[26] Earth formed 4.54 billion years ago, and life appeared on its surface within one billion years.[27] The planet is home to millions of species, including humans.[28] Earth's biosphere has significantly altered the atmosphere and other abiotic conditions on the planet, enabling the proliferation of aerobic organisms as well as the formation of the ozone layer which, together with Earth's magnetic field, blocks harmful solar radiation, permitting life on land.[29] The physical properties of the Earth, as well as its geological history and orbit, have allowed life to persist during this

Earth period. Estimates on how much longer the planet will to be able to continue to support life range from a mere 500 million years, to as long as 2.3 billion years.[30][31][32] Earth's outer surface is divided into several rigid segments, or tectonic plates, that migrate across the surface over periods of many millions of years. About 71% of the surface is covered by salt water oceans, with the remainder consisting of continents and islands which together have many lakes and other sources of water that contribute to the hydrosphere. Earth's poles are mostly covered with solid ice (Antarctic ice sheet) or sea ice (Arctic ice cap). The planet's interior remains active, with a thick layer of relatively solid mantle, a liquid outer core that generates a magnetic field, and a solid iron inner core. Earth interacts with other objects in space, especially the Sun and the Moon. At present, Earth orbits the Sun once every 366.26 times it rotates about its own axis, which is equal to 365.26 solar days, or one sidereal year.[33] The Earth's axis of rotation is tilted 23.4° away from the perpendicular of its orbital plane, producing seasonal variations on the planet's surface with a period of one tropical year (365.24 solar days).[34] Earth's only known natural satellite, the Moon, which began orbiting it about 4.53 billion years ago, provides ocean tides, stabilizes the axial tilt, and gradually slows the planet's rotation. Between approximately 3.8 billion and 4.1 billion years ago, numerous asteroid impacts during the Late Heavy Bombardment caused significant changes to the greater surface environment. Both the mineral resources of the planet and the products of the biosphere contribute resources that are used to support a global human population.[35] These inhabitants are grouped into about 200 independent sovereign states, which interact through diplomacy, travel, trade, and military action. Human cultures have developed many views of the planet, including personification as a deity, a belief in a flat Earth or in the Earth as the center of the universe, and a modern perspective of the world as an integrated environment that requires stewardship.


The earliest dated Solar System material was formed 4.5672 ± 0.0006 billion years ago,[36] and by 4.54 billion years ago (within an uncertainty of 1%)[27] the Earth and the other planets in the Solar System had formed out of the solar nebula—a disk-shaped mass of dust and gas left over from the formation of the Sun. This assembly of the Earth through accretion was thus largely completed within 10–20 million years.[37] Initially molten, the outer layer of the planet Earth cooled to form a solid crust when water began accumulating in the atmosphere. The Moon formed shortly thereafter, 4.53 billion years ago.[38] The current consensus model[39] for the formation of the Moon is the giant impact hypothesis, in which the Moon was created when a Mars-sized object (sometimes called Theia) with about 10% of the Earth's mass[40] impacted the Earth in a glancing blow.[41] In this model, some of this object's mass would have merged with the Earth and a portion would have been ejected into space, but enough material would have been sent into orbit to coalesce into the Moon. Outgassing and volcanic activity produced the primordial atmosphere of the Earth. Condensing water vapor, augmented by ice and liquid water delivered by asteroids and the larger proto-planets, comets, and trans-Neptunian objects produced the oceans.[42] The newly formed Sun was only 70% of its present luminosity, yet evidence shows that the early oceans remained liquid—a contradiction dubbed the faint young Sun paradox. A combination of greenhouse gases and higher levels of solar activity served to raise the Earth's surface temperature, preventing the oceans from freezing over.[43] By 3.5 billion years ago, the Earth's magnetic field was established, which helped prevent the atmosphere from being stripped away by the solar wind.[44] Two major models have been proposed for the rate of continental growth:[45] steady growth to the present-day[46] and rapid growth early in Earth history.[47] Current research shows that the second option is most likely, with rapid initial growth of continental crust[48] followed by a long-term steady continental area.[49][50][51] On time scales lasting hundreds of millions of years, the surface continually reshaped as continents formed and broke up. The continents migrated across the surface, occasionally combining to form a supercontinent. Roughly 750 million years ago (Ma), one of the earliest known supercontinents, Rodinia, began to break apart. The continents later recombined

Earth to form Pannotia, 600–540 Ma, then finally Pangaea, which broke apart 180 Ma.[52]


Evolution of life
Highly energetic chemistry is believed to have produced a self-replicating molecule around 4 billion years ago and half a billion years later the last common ancestor of all life existed.[53] The development of photosynthesis allowed the Sun's energy to be harvested directly by life forms; the resultant oxygen accumulated in the atmosphere and formed a layer of ozone (a form of molecular oxygen [O3]) in the upper atmosphere. The incorporation of smaller cells within larger ones resulted in the development of complex cells called eukaryotes.[54] True multicellular organisms formed as cells within colonies became increasingly specialized. Aided by the absorption of harmful ultraviolet radiation by the ozone layer, life colonized the surface of Earth.[55] Since the 1960s, it has been hypothesized that severe glacial action between 750 and 580 Ma, during the Neoproterozoic, covered much of the planet in a sheet of ice. This hypothesis has been termed "Snowball Earth", and is of particular interest because it preceded the Cambrian explosion, when multicellular life forms began to proliferate.[56] Following the Cambrian explosion, about 535 Ma, there have been five major mass extinctions.[57] The most recent such event was 65 Ma, when an asteroid impact triggered the extinction of the (non-avian) dinosaurs and other large reptiles, but spared some small animals such as mammals, which then resembled shrews. Over the past 65 million years, mammalian life has diversified, and several million years ago an African ape-like animal such as Orrorin tugenensis gained the ability to stand upright.[58] This enabled tool use and encouraged communication that provided the nutrition and stimulation needed for a larger brain, which allowed the evolution of the human race. The development of agriculture, and then civilization, allowed humans to influence the Earth in a short time span as no other life form had,[59] affecting both the nature and quantity of other life forms. The present pattern of ice ages began about 40 Ma and then intensified during the Pleistocene about 3 Ma. High-latitude regions have since undergone repeated cycles of glaciation and thaw, repeating every 40–100,000 years. The last continental glaciation ended 10,000 years ago.[60]


The life cycle of the Sun

The future of the planet is closely tied to that of the Sun. As a result of the steady accumulation of helium at the Sun's core, the star's total luminosity will slowly increase. The luminosity of the Sun will grow by 10% over the next 1.1 Gyr (1.1 billion years) and by 40% over the next 3.5 Gyr.[61] Climate models indicate that the rise in radiation reaching the Earth is likely to have dire consequences, including the loss of the planet's oceans.[62] The Earth's increasing surface temperature will accelerate the inorganic CO2 cycle, reducing its concentration to levels lethally low for plants (10 ppm for C4 photosynthesis) in approximately 500 million[30] to 900 million years. The lack of vegetation will result in the loss of oxygen in the atmosphere, so animal life will become extinct within several million more years.[63] After another billion years all surface water will have disappeared[31] and the mean

Earth global temperature will reach 70 °C[63] (158 °F). The Earth is expected to be effectively habitable for about another 500 million years from that point,[30] although this may be extended up to 2.3 billion years if the nitrogen is removed from the atmosphere.[32] Even if the Sun were eternal and stable, the continued internal cooling of the Earth would result in a loss of much of its CO2 due to reduced volcanism,[64] and 35% of the water in the oceans would descend to the mantle due to reduced steam venting from mid-ocean ridges.[65] The Sun, as part of its evolution, will become a red giant in about 5 Gyr. Models predict that the Sun will expand out to about 250 times its present radius, roughly 1 AU (unknown operator: u'strong' km).[61][66] Earth's fate is less clear. As a red giant, the Sun will lose roughly 30% of its mass, so, without tidal effects, the Earth will move to an orbit 1.7 AU (unknown operator: u'strong' km) from the Sun when the star reaches it maximum radius. The planet was therefore initially expected to escape envelopment by the expanded Sun's sparse outer atmosphere, though most, if not all, remaining life would have been destroyed by the Sun's increased luminosity (peaking at about 5000 times its present level).[61] A 2008 simulation indicates that Earth's orbit will decay due to tidal effects and drag, causing it to enter the red giant Sun's atmosphere and be vaporized.[66]


Composition and structure
Further information: Earth physical characteristics tables Earth is a terrestrial planet, meaning that it is a rocky body, rather than a gas giant like Jupiter. It is the largest of the four solar terrestrial planets in size and mass. Of these four planets, Earth also has the highest density, the highest surface gravity, the strongest magnetic field, and fastest rotation,[67] and is probably the only one with active plate tectonics.[68]

Size comparison of inner planets (left to right): Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars

The shape of the Earth approximates an oblate spheroid, a sphere flattened along the axis from pole to pole such that there is a bulge around the equator.[70] This bulge results from the rotation of the Earth, and causes the diameter at the equator to be 43 km larger than the pole-to-pole diameter.[71] For this reason the furthest point on the surface from the Earth's center of mass is the Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador.[72] The average diameter of the reference spheroid is about 12,742 km, which is approximately 40,000 km/π, as the meter was originally defined as 1/10,000,000 of the distance from the equator to the North Pole through Paris, France.[73]

Chimborazo, Ecuador. The furthermost point on [69] the Earth's surface from its center.

Local topography deviates from this idealized spheroid, although on a global scale, these deviations are small: Earth has a tolerance of about one part in about 584, or 0.17%, from the reference spheroid, which is less than the 0.22% tolerance allowed in billiard balls.[74] The largest local deviations in the rocky surface of the Earth are Mount Everest (8848 m above local sea level) and the Mariana Trench (10,911 m below local sea level). Because of the equatorial bulge, the surface locations farthest from the center of the Earth are the summits of Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador and Huascarán in Peru.[75][76][77]



Chemical composition of the crust[78]
Compound Formula Composition Continental Oceanic silica alumina lime magnesia iron(II) oxide sodium oxide potassium oxide iron(III) oxide water carbon dioxide titanium dioxide phosphorus pentoxide Total SiO2 Al2O3 CaO MgO FeO Na2O K2O Fe2O3 H2O CO2 TiO2 P2O5 60.2% 15.2% 5.5% 3.1% 3.8% 3.0% 2.8% 2.5% 1.4% 1.2% 0.7% 0.2% 99.6% 48.6% 16.5% 12.3% 6.8% 6.2% 2.6% 0.4% 2.3% 1.1% 1.4% 1.4% 0.3% 99.9%

Chemical composition
The mass of the Earth is approximately 5.98×1024 kg. It is composed mostly of iron (32.1%), oxygen (30.1%), silicon (15.1%), magnesium (13.9%), sulfur (2.9%), nickel (1.8%), calcium (1.5%), and aluminium (1.4%); with the remaining 1.2% consisting of trace amounts of other elements. Due to mass segregation, the core region is believed to be primarily composed of iron (88.8%), with smaller amounts of nickel (5.8%), sulfur (4.5%), and less than 1% trace elements.[79] The geochemist F. W. Clarke calculated that a little more than 47% of the Earth's crust consists of oxygen. The more common rock constituents of the Earth's crust are nearly all oxides; chlorine, sulfur and fluorine are the only important exceptions to this and their total amount in any rock is usually much less than 1%. The principal oxides are silica, alumina, iron oxides, lime, magnesia, potash and soda. The silica functions principally as an acid, forming silicates, and all the commonest minerals of igneous rocks are of this nature. From a computation based on 1,672 analyses of all kinds of rocks, Clarke deduced that 99.22% were composed of 11 oxides (see the table at right), with the other constituents occurring in minute quantities.[80]

Internal structure
The interior of the Earth, like that of the other terrestrial planets, is divided into layers by their chemical or physical (rheological) properties, but unlike the other terrestrial planets, it has a distinct outer and inner core. The outer layer of the Earth is a chemically distinct silicate solid crust, which is underlain by a highly viscous solid mantle. The crust is separated from the mantle by the Mohorovičić discontinuity, and the thickness of the crust varies: averaging 6 km under the oceans and 30–50 km on the continents. The crust and the cold, rigid, top of the upper mantle are collectively known as the lithosphere, and it is of the lithosphere that the tectonic plates are comprised. Beneath the lithosphere is the asthenosphere, a relatively low-viscosity layer on which the lithosphere rides. Important changes in crystal structure within the mantle occur at 410 and 660 kilometers below the surface, spanning a transition zone that separates the upper and lower mantle. Beneath the mantle, an extremely low viscosity liquid outer core lies above a solid inner core.[81] The inner core may rotate at a slightly higher angular velocity than the remainder of the planet, advancing by 0.1–0.5° per year.[82]



Geologic layers of the Earth[83]
[84] Depth km Component Layer 0–60 0–35 35–60 35–2890 100–700 Lithosphere Crust [86] [85] Density g/cm3 — 2.2–2.9 3.4–4.4 3.4–5.6 — 9.9–12.2 12.8–13.1

Upper mantle Mantle Asthenosphere

2890–5100 Outer core Earth cutaway from core to exosphere. Not to scale. 5100–6378 Inner core

Earth's internal heat comes from a combination of residual heat from planetary accretion (about 20%) and heat produced through radioactive decay (80%).[87] The major heat-producing isotopes in the Earth are potassium-40, uranium-238, uranium-235, and thorium-232.[88] At the center of the planet, the temperature may be up to 7,000 K and the pressure could reach 360 GPa.[89] Because much of the heat is provided by radioactive decay, scientists believe that early in Earth history, before isotopes with short half-lives had been depleted, Earth's heat production would have been much higher. This extra heat production, twice present-day at approximately 3 billion years ago,[87] would have increased temperature gradients within the Earth, increasing the rates of mantle convection and plate tectonics, and allowing the production of igneous rocks such as komatiites that are not formed today.[90]

Present-day major heat-producing isotopes[91]
Isotope Heat release W/kg isotope Half-life years Mean mantle concentration kg isotope/kg mantle 30.8 × 10−9 0.22 × 10−9 124 × 10−9 36.9 × 10−9 Heat release W/kg mantle



9.46 × 10−5 5.69 × 10−4 2.64 × 10−5 2.92 × 10−5

4.47 × 109 7.04 × 108 1.40 × 1010 1.25 × 109

2.91 × 10−12 1.25 × 10−13 3.27 × 10−12 1.08 × 10−12



Th K


The mean heat loss from the Earth is 87 mW m−2, for a global heat loss of 4.42 × 1013 W.[92] A portion of the core's thermal energy is transported toward the crust by mantle plumes; a form of convection consisting of upwellings of higher-temperature rock. These plumes can produce hotspots and flood basalts.[93] More of the heat in the Earth is lost through plate tectonics, by mantle upwelling associated with mid-ocean ridges. The final major mode of heat loss is through conduction through the lithosphere, the majority of which occurs in the oceans because the crust there is much thinner than that of the continents.[94]



Tectonic plates Earth's main plates[95]

Plate name

Area 106 km2 103.3

  Pacific Plate   African Plate [96]

78.0 75.9 67.8 60.9 47.2 43.6

  North American Plate   Eurasian Plate   Antarctic Plate   Indo-Australian Plate   South American Plate

The mechanically rigid outer layer of the Earth, the lithosphere, is broken into pieces called tectonic plates. These plates are rigid segments that move in relation to one another at one of three types of plate boundaries: Convergent boundaries, at which two plates come together, Divergent boundaries, at which two plates are pulled apart, and Transform boundaries, in which two plates slide past one another laterally. Earthquakes, volcanic activity, mountain-building, and oceanic trench formation can occur along these plate boundaries.[97] The tectonic plates ride on top of the asthenosphere, the solid but less-viscous part of the upper mantle that can flow and move along with the plates,[98] and their motion is strongly coupled with convection patterns inside the Earth's mantle. As the tectonic plates migrate across the planet, the ocean floor is subducted under the leading edges of the plates at convergent boundaries. At the same time, the upwelling of mantle material at divergent boundaries creates mid-ocean ridges. The combination of these processes continually recycles the oceanic crust back into the mantle. Because of this recycling, most of the ocean floor is less than 100 million years in age. The oldest oceanic crust is located in the Western Pacific, and has an estimated age of about 200 million years.[99][100] By comparison, the oldest dated continental crust is 4030 million years old.[101] The seven major plates are the Pacific, North American, Eurasian, African, Antarctic, Indo-Australian, and South American. Other notable plates include the Arabian Plate, the Caribbean Plate, the Nazca Plate off the west coast of South America and the Scotia Plate in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The Australian Plate fused with the Indian Plate between 50 and 55 million years ago. The fastest-moving plates are the oceanic plates, with the Cocos Plate advancing at a rate of 75 mm/year[102] and the Pacific Plate moving 52–69 mm/year. At the other extreme, the slowest-moving plate is the Eurasian Plate, progressing at a typical rate of about 21 mm/year.[103]

The Earth's terrain varies greatly from place to place. About 70.8%[104] of the surface is covered by water, with much of the continental shelf below sea level. The submerged surface has mountainous features, including a globe-spanning mid-ocean ridge system, as well as undersea volcanoes,[71] oceanic trenches, submarine canyons, oceanic plateaus and abyssal plains. The remaining 29.2% not covered by water consists of mountains, deserts, plains, plateaus, and other geomorphologies.

Earth The planetary surface undergoes reshaping over geological time periods because of tectonics and erosion. The surface features built up or deformed through plate tectonics are subject to steady weathering from precipitation, thermal cycles, and chemical effects. Glaciation, coastal erosion, the build-up of coral reefs, and large meteorite impacts[105] also act to reshape the landscape. The continental crust consists of lower density material such as the igneous rocks granite and andesite. Less common is basalt, a denser volcanic rock that is the primary constituent of the ocean floors.[107] Sedimentary rock is formed from the accumulation of sediment that becomes compacted together. Nearly 75% of the continental surfaces are covered by sedimentary rocks, although they form only about 5% of the crust.[108] The third form of rock material found on Earth is metamorphic rock, which is created from the transformation of pre-existing rock types Present-day Earth altimetry and bathymetry. Data from the National Geophysical [106] Data Center's TerrainBase Digital Terrain Model . through high pressures, high temperatures, or both. The most abundant silicate minerals on the Earth's surface include quartz, the feldspars, amphibole, mica, pyroxene and olivine.[109] Common carbonate minerals include calcite (found in limestone) and dolomite.[110] The pedosphere is the outermost layer of the Earth that is composed of soil and subject to soil formation processes. It exists at the interface of the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. Currently the total arable land is 13.31% of the land surface, with only 4.71% supporting permanent crops.[17] Close to 40% of the Earth's land surface is presently used for cropland and pasture, or an estimated 1.3×107 km2 of cropland and 3.4×107 km2 of pastureland.[111] The elevation of the land surface of the Earth varies from the low point of −418 m at the Dead Sea, to a 2005-estimated maximum altitude of 8,848 m at the top of Mount Everest. The mean height of land above sea level is 840 m.[112]




The abundance of water on Earth's surface is a unique feature that distinguishes the "Blue Planet" from others in the Solar System. The Earth's hydrosphere consists chiefly of the oceans, but technically includes all water surfaces in the world, including inland seas, lakes, rivers, and underground waters down to a depth of 2,000 m. The deepest underwater location is Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean with a depth of −10,911.4 m.[113][114] The mass of the oceans is approximately 1.35×1018 metric tons, or about 1/4400 of the total mass of the Earth. The oceans Elevation histogram of the surface of the Earth cover an area of 3.618×108 km2 with a mean depth of 3,682 m, resulting in an estimated volume of 1.332×109 km3.[115] If all the land on Earth were spread evenly, water would rise to an altitude of more than 2.7 km.[116] About 97.5% of the water is saline, while the remaining 2.5% is fresh water. Most fresh water, about 68.7%, is currently ice.[117] The average salinity of the Earth's oceans is about 35 grams of salt per kilogram of sea water (35 ‰).[118] Most of this salt was released from volcanic activity or extracted from cool, igneous rocks.[119] The oceans are also a reservoir of dissolved atmospheric gases, which are essential for the survival of many aquatic life forms.[120] Sea water has an important influence on the world's climate, with the oceans acting as a large heat reservoir.[121] Shifts in the oceanic temperature distribution can cause significant weather shifts, such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.[122]

The atmospheric pressure on the surface of the Earth averages 101.325 kPa, with a scale height of about 8.5 km.[5] It is 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen, with trace amounts of water vapor, carbon dioxide and other gaseous molecules. The height of the troposphere varies with latitude, ranging between 8 km at the poles to 17 km at the equator, with some variation resulting from weather and seasonal factors.[123] Earth's biosphere has significantly altered its atmosphere. Oxygenic photosynthesis evolved 2.7 billion years ago, forming the primarily nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere of today. This change enabled the proliferation of aerobic organisms as well as the formation of the ozone layer which blocks ultraviolet solar radiation, permitting life on land. Other atmospheric functions important to life on Earth include transporting water vapor, providing useful gases, causing small meteors to burn up before they strike the surface, and moderating temperature.[124] This last phenomenon is known as the greenhouse effect: trace molecules within the atmosphere serve to capture thermal energy emitted from the ground, thereby raising the average temperature. Water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and ozone are the primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere. Without this heat-retention effect, the average surface would be −18 °C, in contrast to the current +15 °C, and life would likely not exist.[104]

Earth Weather and climate The Earth's atmosphere has no definite boundary, slowly becoming thinner and fading into outer space. Three-quarters of the atmosphere's mass is contained within the first 11 km of the planet's surface. This lowest layer is called the troposphere. Energy from the Sun heats this layer, and the surface below, causing expansion of the air. This lower density air then rises, and is replaced by cooler, higher density air. The result is atmospheric circulation that drives the weather and climate through redistribution of heat energy.[125]


Satellite cloud cover image of Earth using NASA's Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer

The primary atmospheric circulation bands consist of the trade winds in the equatorial region below 30° latitude and the westerlies in the mid-latitudes between 30° and 60°.[126] Ocean currents are also important factors in determining climate, particularly the thermohaline circulation that distributes heat energy from the equatorial oceans to the polar regions.[127] Water vapor generated through surface evaporation is transported by circulatory patterns in the atmosphere. When atmospheric conditions permit an uplift of warm, humid air, this water condenses and settles to the surface as precipitation.[125] Most of the water is then transported to lower elevations by river systems and usually returned to the oceans or deposited into lakes. This water cycle is a vital mechanism for supporting life on land, and is a primary factor in the erosion of surface features over geological periods. Precipitation patterns vary widely, ranging from several meters of water per year to less than a millimeter. Atmospheric circulation, topological features and temperature differences determine the average precipitation that falls in each region.[128] The amount of solar energy reaching the Earth's decreases with increasing latitude. At higher latitudes the sunlight reaches the surface at a lower angles and it must pass through thicker columns of the atmosphere. As a result, the mean annual air temperature at sea level decreases by about 0.4 °C per per degree of latitude away from the equator.[129] The Earth can be sub-divided into specific latitudinal belts of approximately homogeneous climate. Ranging from the equator to the polar regions, these are the tropical (or equatorial), subtropical, temperate and polar climates.[130] Climate can also be classified based on the temperature and precipitation, with the climate regions characterized by fairly uniform air masses. The commonly used Köppen climate classification system (as modified by Wladimir Köppen's student Rudolph Geiger) has five broad groups (humid tropics, arid, humid middle latitudes, continental and cold polar), which are further divided into more specific subtypes.[126] Upper atmosphere Above the troposphere, the atmosphere is usually divided into the stratosphere, mesosphere, and thermosphere.[124] Each layer has a different lapse rate, defining the rate of change in temperature with height. Beyond these, the exosphere thins out into the magnetosphere, where the Earth's magnetic fields interact with the solar wind.[131] Within the stratosphere is the ozone layer, a component that partially shields the surface from ultraviolet light and thus is important for life on Earth. The Kármán line, defined as 100 km above the Earth's surface, is a working definition for the boundary between atmosphere and space.[132]

This view from orbit shows the full Moon partially obscured and deformed by the Earth's atmosphere. NASA image

Thermal energy causes some of the molecules at the outer edge of the Earth's atmosphere have their velocity increased to the point where they can escape from the planet's gravity. This results in a slow but steady leakage of the atmosphere into space. Because unfixed hydrogen has a low molecular weight, it can achieve escape velocity more readily and it leaks into outer space at a greater rate than other

Earth gasses.[133] The leakage of hydrogen into space contributes to the pushing of the Earth from an initially reducing state to its current oxidizing one. Photosynthesis provided a source of free oxygen, but the loss of reducing agents such as hydrogen is believed to have been a necessary precondition for the widespread accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere.[134] Hence the ability of hydrogen to escape from the Earth's atmosphere may have influenced the nature of life that developed on the planet.[135] In the current, oxygen-rich atmosphere most hydrogen is converted into water before it has an opportunity to escape. Instead, most of the hydrogen loss comes from the destruction of methane in the upper atmosphere.[136]


Magnetic field
The Earth's magnetic field is shaped roughly as a magnetic dipole, with the poles currently located proximate to the planet's geographic poles. At the equator of the magnetic field, the magnetic field strength at the planet's surface is 3.05 × 10−5 T, with global magnetic dipole moment of 7.91 × 1015 T m3.[137] According to dynamo theory, the field is generated within the molten outer core region where heat creates convection motions of conducting materials, generating electric currents. These in turn produce the Earth's magnetic field. The convection movements in the core are chaotic; the magnetic poles drift and Schematic of Earth's magnetosphere. The solar wind flows from left to right periodically change alignment. This results in field reversals at irregular intervals averaging a few times every million years. The most recent reversal occurred approximately 700,000 years ago.[138][139] The field forms the magnetosphere, which deflects particles in the solar wind. The sunward edge of the bow shock is located at about 13 times the radius of the Earth. The collision between the magnetic field and the solar wind forms the Van Allen radiation belts, a pair of concentric, torus-shaped regions of energetic charged particles. When the plasma enters the Earth's atmosphere at the magnetic poles, it forms the aurora.[140]



Orbit and rotation
Earth's rotation period relative to the Sun—its mean solar day—is 86,400 seconds of mean solar time (86,400.0025 SI seconds).[141] As the Earth's solar day is now slightly longer than it was during the 19th century because of tidal acceleration, each day varies between 0 and 2 SI ms longer.[142][143] Earth's rotation period relative to the fixed stars, called its stellar day by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS), is 86164.098903691 seconds of mean solar time (UT1), or 23h 56m 4.098903691s.[4][144] Earth's rotation period relative to the precessing or moving mean vernal equinox, misnamed its Earth's axial tilt (or obliquity) and its relation to the rotation axis and plane of orbit sidereal day, is 86164.09053083288 seconds of h m mean solar time (UT1) (23 56 s [4] 4.09053083288 ). Thus the sidereal day is shorter than the stellar day by about 8.4 ms.[145] The length of the mean solar day in SI seconds is available from the IERS for the periods 1623–2005[146] and 1962–2005.[147] Apart from meteors within the atmosphere and low-orbiting satellites, the main apparent motion of celestial bodies in the Earth's sky is to the west at a rate of 15°/h = 15'/min. For bodies near the celestial equator, this is equivalent to an apparent diameter of the Sun or Moon every two minutes; from the planet's surface, the apparent sizes of the Sun and the Moon are approximately the same.[148][149]

Earth orbits the Sun at an average distance of about 150 million kilometers every 365.2564 mean solar days, or one sidereal year. From Earth, this gives an apparent movement of the Sun eastward with respect to the stars at a rate of about 1°/day, or a Sun or Moon diameter, every 12 hours. Because of this motion, on average it takes 24 hours—a solar day—for Earth to complete a full rotation about its axis so that the Sun returns to the meridian. The orbital speed of the Earth averages about 29.8 km/s (107,000 km/h), which is fast enough to cover the planet's diameter (about 12,600 km) in seven minutes, and the distance to the Moon (384,000 km) in four hours.[5] The Moon revolves with the Earth around a common barycenter every 27.32 days relative to the background stars. When combined with the Earth–Moon system's common revolution around the Sun, the period of the synodic month, from new moon to new moon, is 29.53 days. Viewed from the celestial north pole, the motion of Earth, the Moon and their axial rotations are all counter-clockwise. Viewed from a vantage point above the north poles of both the Sun and the Earth, the Earth appears to revolve in a counterclockwise direction about the Sun. The orbital and axial planes are not precisely aligned: Earth's axis is tilted some 23.4 degrees from the perpendicular to the Earth–Sun plane, and the Earth–Moon plane is tilted about 5 degrees against the Earth-Sun plane. Without this tilt, there would be an eclipse every two weeks, alternating between lunar eclipses and solar eclipses.[5][150] The Hill sphere, or gravitational sphere of influence, of the Earth is about 1.5 Gm (or 1,500,000 kilometers) in radius.[151][152] This is maximum distance at which the Earth's gravitational influence is stronger than the more distant Sun and planets. Objects must orbit the Earth within this radius, or they can become unbound by the gravitational perturbation of the Sun.



Earth, along with the Solar System, is situated in the Milky Way galaxy, orbiting about 28,000 light years from the center of the galaxy. It is currently about 20 light years above the galaxy's equatorial plane in the Orion spiral arm.[153]

Axial tilt and seasons
Because of the axial tilt of the Earth, the amount of sunlight reaching any given point on the surface varies over the course of the year. This results in seasonal change in climate, with summer in the northern hemisphere occurring when the North Pole is pointing toward the Sun, and winter taking place when the pole is pointed away. During the Illustration of the Milky Way Galaxy, showing summer, the day lasts longer and the Sun climbs higher in the sky. In the location of the Sun winter, the climate becomes generally cooler and the days shorter. Above the Arctic Circle, an extreme case is reached where there is no daylight at all for part of the year—a polar night. In the southern hemisphere the situation is exactly reversed, with the South Pole oriented opposite the direction of the North Pole. By astronomical convention, the four seasons are determined by the solstices—the point in the orbit of maximum axial tilt toward or away from the Sun—and the equinoxes, when the direction of the tilt and the direction to the Sun are perpendicular. In the northern hemisphere, Winter Solstice occurs on about December 21, Summer Solstice is near June 21, Spring Equinox is around March 20 and Autumnal Equinox is about September 23. In the Southern hemisphere, the situation is reversed, with the Summer and Winter Solstices exchanged and the Spring and Autumnal Equinox dates switched.[154] The angle of the Earth's tilt is relatively stable over long periods of time. The tilt does undergo nutation; a slight, irregular motion with a Earth and Moon from Mars, imaged by Mars main period of 18.6 years.[155] The orientation (rather than the angle) Reconnaissance Orbiter. From space, the Earth of the Earth's axis also changes over time, precessing around in a can be seen to go through phases similar to the complete circle over each 25,800 year cycle; this precession is the phases of the Moon. reason for the difference between a sidereal year and a tropical year. Both of these motions are caused by the varying attraction of the Sun and Moon on the Earth's equatorial bulge. From the perspective of the Earth, the poles also migrate a few meters across the surface. This polar motion has multiple, cyclical components, which collectively are termed quasiperiodic motion. In addition to an annual component to this motion, there is a 14-month cycle called the Chandler wobble. The rotational velocity of the Earth also varies in a phenomenon known as length of day variation.[156] In modern times, Earth's perihelion occurs around January 3, and the aphelion around July 4. These dates change over time due to precession and other orbital factors, which follow cyclical patterns known as Milankovitch cycles. The changing Earth-Sun distance results in an increase of about 6.9%[157] in solar energy reaching the Earth at perihelion relative to aphelion. Since the southern hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun at about the same time that the Earth reaches the closest approach to the Sun, the southern hemisphere receives slightly more energy from the Sun than does the northern over the course of a year. This effect is much less significant than the total energy change due to the axial tilt, and most of the excess energy is absorbed by the higher proportion of water in the southern hemisphere.[158]



Diameter Mass 3,474.8 km 7.349×1022 kg

Semi-major axis 384,400 km Orbital period 27 d 7 h 43.7 m

The Moon is a relatively large, terrestrial, planet-like satellite, with a diameter about one-quarter of the Earth's. It is the largest moon in the Solar System relative to the size of its planet, although Charon is larger relative to the dwarf planet Pluto. The natural satellites orbiting other planets are called "moons" after Earth's Moon. The gravitational attraction between the Earth and Moon causes tides on Earth. The same effect on the Moon has led to its tidal locking: its rotation period is the same as the time it takes to orbit the Earth. As a result, it always presents the same face to the planet. As the Moon orbits Earth, different parts of its face are illuminated by the Sun, leading to the lunar phases; the dark part of the face is separated from the light part by the solar terminator. Because of their tidal interaction, the Moon recedes from Earth at the rate of approximately 38 mm a year. Over millions of years, these tiny modifications—and the lengthening of Earth's day by about 23 µs a year—add up to significant changes.[159] During the Devonian period, for example, (approximately 410 million years ago) there were 400 days in a year, with each day lasting 21.8 hours.[160] The Moon may have dramatically affected the development of life by moderating the planet's climate. Paleontological evidence and computer simulations show that Earth's axial tilt is stabilized by tidal interactions with the Moon.[163] Some theorists believe that without this stabilization against the torques applied by the Sun and planets to the Earth's equatorial bulge, the rotational axis might be chaotically unstable, exhibiting chaotic changes over millions of years, as appears to be the case for Mars.[164]
[161] Viewed from Earth, the Moon is just far the Earth-Moon barycenter is shown. Photos from NASA . Data from NASA [162] . The Moon's axis is located by Cassini's third law. enough away to have very nearly the same apparent-sized disk as the Sun. The angular size (or solid angle) of these two bodies match because, although the Sun's diameter is about 400 times as large as the Moon's, it is also 400 times more distant.[149] This allows total and annular solar eclipses to occur on Earth. Details of the Earth-Moon system. Besides the radius of each object, the radius to

The most widely accepted theory of the Moon's origin, the giant impact theory, states that it formed from the collision of a Mars-size protoplanet called Theia with the early Earth. This hypothesis explains (among other things) the Moon's relative lack of iron and volatile elements, and the fact that its composition is nearly identical to that of the Earth's crust.[165] Earth has at least five co-orbital asteroids, including 3753 Cruithne and 2002 AA29.[166][167] As of 2011, there are 931 operational, man-made satellites orbiting the Earth.[168] On July 27, 2011, astronomers reported a trojan asteroid companion, 2010 TK7, librating around the leading Lagrange triangular point, L4, of Earth in Earth's orbit around the Sun.[169][170]



A scale representation of the relative sizes of, and average distance between, Earth and Moon

A planet that can sustain life is termed habitable, even if life did not originate there. The Earth provides liquid water—an environment where complex organic molecules can assemble and interact, and sufficient energy to sustain metabolism.[171] The distance of the Earth from the Sun, as well as its orbital eccentricity, rate of rotation, axial tilt, geological history, sustaining atmosphere and protective magnetic field all contribute to the current climactic conditions at the surface.[172]

The planet's life forms are sometimes said to form a "biosphere". This biosphere is generally believed to have begun evolving about 3.5 billion years ago. The biosphere is divided into a number of biomes, inhabited by broadly similar plants and animals. On land, biomes are separated primarily by differences in latitude, height above sea level and humidity. Terrestrial biomes lying within the Arctic or Antarctic Circles, at high altitudes or in extremely arid areas are relatively barren of plant and animal life; species diversity reaches a peak in humid lowlands at equatorial latitudes.[173]

Natural resources and land use
The Earth provides resources that are exploitable by humans for useful purposes. Some of these are non-renewable resources, such as mineral fuels, that are difficult to replenish on a short time scale. Large deposits of fossil fuels are obtained from the Earth's crust, consisting of coal, petroleum, natural gas and methane clathrate. These deposits are used by humans both for energy production and as feedstock for chemical production. Mineral ore bodies have also been formed in Earth's crust through a process of Ore genesis, resulting from actions of erosion and plate tectonics.[174] These bodies form concentrated sources for many metals and other useful elements. The Earth's biosphere produces many useful biological products for humans, including (but far from limited to) food, wood, pharmaceuticals, oxygen, and the recycling of many organic wastes. The land-based ecosystem depends upon topsoil and fresh water, and the oceanic ecosystem depends upon dissolved nutrients washed down from the land.[175] Humans also live on the land by using building materials to construct shelters. In 1993, human use of land is approximately:
Land use Arable land Permanent crops Permanent pastures Forests and woodland Urban areas Other 4.71% [17] 26% 32% 1.5% 30%

Percentage 13.13%[17]

The estimated amount of irrigated land in 1993 was 2,481,250 km2.[17]



Natural and environmental hazards
Large areas of the Earth's surface are subject to extreme weather such as tropical cyclones, hurricanes, or typhoons that dominate life in those areas. From 1980–2000, these events caused an average of 11,800 deaths per year.[176] Many places are subject to earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, sinkholes, blizzards, floods, droughts, wildfires, and other calamities and disasters. Many localized areas are subject to human-made pollution of the air and water, acid rain and toxic substances, loss of vegetation (overgrazing, deforestation, desertification), loss of wildlife, species extinction, soil degradation, soil depletion, erosion, and introduction of invasive species. According to the United Nations, a scientific consensus exists linking human activities to global warming due to industrial carbon dioxide emissions. This is predicted to produce changes such as the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, more extreme temperature ranges, significant changes in weather and a global rise in average sea levels.[177]

Human geography
Cartography, the study and practice of map making, and vicariously geography, have historically been the disciplines devoted to depicting the Earth. Surveying, the determination of locations and distances, and to a lesser extent navigation, the determination of position and direction, have developed alongside cartography and geography, providing and suitably quantifying the requisite information. Earth has reached approximately 7,000,000,000 human inhabitants as of October 31, 2011.[178] Projections indicate that the world's human population will reach 9.2 billion in 2050.[179] Most of the growth is expected to take place in developing nations. Human population density varies widely around the world, but a majority live in Asia. By 2020, 60% of the world's population is expected to be living in urban, rather than rural, areas.[180] It is estimated that only one-eighth of the surface of the Earth is suitable for humans to live on—three-quarters is covered by oceans, and half of the land area is either desert (14%),[181] high mountains (27%),[182] or other less suitable terrain. The northernmost permanent settlement in the world is Alert, on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada.[183] (82°28′N) The southernmost is the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, in Antarctica, almost exactly at the South Pole. (90°S) Independent sovereign nations claim the planet's entire land surface, except for some parts of Antarctica and the odd unclaimed area of Bir Tawil between Egypt and Sudan. As of 2011 there are 204 sovereign states, including the 193 United Nations member states. In addition, there are 59 dependent territories, and a number of autonomous areas, territories under dispute and other entities.[17] Historically, Earth has never had a sovereign government with authority over the entire globe, although a number of nation-states have striven for world domination and failed.[184] The United Nations is a worldwide intergovernmental organization that was created with the goal of intervening in the disputes between nations, thereby avoiding armed conflict.[185] The U.N. serves primarily as a forum for international diplomacy and international law. When the consensus of the membership permits, it provides a mechanism for armed intervention.[186] The first human to orbit the Earth was Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961.[187] In total, about 487 people have visited outer space and reached Earth orbit as of July 30, 2010, and, of these, twelve have walked on the Moon.[188][189][190] Normally the only humans in space are those on the International Space Station. The station's crew, currently six people, is usually replaced every six months.[191] The furthest humans have travelled from Earth is 400,171 km, achieved during the 1970 Apollo 13 mission.[192]



The 7 continents of Earth:


     North America ,     South America,      Antarctica,      Africa,      Europe,      Asia,      Australia

The Earth at night, a composite of DMSP/OLS ground illumination data on a simulated night-time image of the world. This image is not photographic and many features are brighter than they would appear to a direct observer.

ISS video beginning just south-east of Alaska. The first city that the ISS passes over (seen approximately 10 seconds into the video) is San Francisco and the surrounding areas. If one looks very carefully, you can spot where the Golden Gate Bridge is located: a smaller strip of lights just before the city of San Francisco, nearest to the clouds on the right of the image. Very obvious lightning storms can be seen on the Pacific Ocean coastline, with clouds overhead. As the video continues, the ISS passes over Central America (green lights can be seen here), with the Yucatan Peninsula on the left. The pass ends as the ISS is over the capital city of Bolivia, La Paz.

Cultural viewpoint
The name "Earth" derives from the Anglo-Saxon word erda, which means ground or soil, and is related to the German word Erde. It became eorthe later, and then erthe in Middle English.[194] The standard astronomical symbol of the Earth consists of a cross circumscribed by a circle.[195] Unlike the rest of the planets in the Solar System, humankind did not begin to view the Earth as a moving object in orbit around the Sun until the 16th century.[196] Earth has often been personified as a deity, in particular a goddess. In many cultures the mother goddess is also portrayed as a fertility deity. Creation myths in many religions recall a story involving the creation of the Earth by a supernatural deity or The first photograph ever taken by astronauts of deities. A variety of religious groups, often associated with an "Earthrise", from Apollo 8 [197] [198] fundamentalist branches of Protestantism or Islam, assert that their interpretations of these creation myths in sacred texts are literal truth and should be considered alongside or replace conventional scientific accounts of the formation of the Earth

Earth and the origin and development of life.[199] Such assertions are opposed by the scientific community[200][201] and by other religious groups.[202][203][204] A prominent example is the creation-evolution controversy. In the past there were varying levels of belief in a flat Earth,[205] but this was displaced by the concept of a spherical Earth due to observation and circumnavigation.[206] The human perspective regarding the Earth has changed following the advent of spaceflight, and the biosphere is now widely viewed from a globally integrated perspective.[207][208] This is reflected in a growing environmental movement that is concerned about humankind's effects on the planet.[209]


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[193] World (http:/ / www. nationalgeographic. com/ xpeditions/ atlas/ index. html?Parent=world& Mode=d& SubMode=w), National Geographic - Xpeditions Atlas (http:/ / www. nationalgeographic. com/ xpeditions/ ). 2006. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society. [194] Random House Unabridged Dictionary. Random House. July 2005. ISBN 0-375-42599-3. [195] Liungman, Carl G. (2004). "Group 29: Multi-axes symmetric, both soft and straight-lined, closed signs with crossing lines". Symbols – Encyclopedia of Western Signs and Ideograms. New York: Ionfox AB. pp. 281–282. ISBN 91-972705-0-4. [196] Arnett, Bill (July 16, 2006). "Earth" (http:/ / nineplanets. org/ earth. html). The Nine Planets, A Multimedia Tour of the Solar System: one star, eight planets, and more. . Retrieved 2010-03-09. [197] Dutch, S. I. (2002). "Religion as belief versus religion as fact" (http:/ / nagt. org/ files/ nagt/ jge/ abstracts/ Dutch_v50n2p137. pdf) (PDF). Journal of Geoscience Education 50 (2): 137–144. . Retrieved 2008-04-28. [198] Edis, Taner (2003) (PDF). A World Designed by God: Science and Creationism in Contemporary Islam (http:/ / www2. truman. edu/ ~edis/ writings/ articles/ CFI-2001. pdf). Amherst: Prometheus. ISBN 1-59102-064-6. . Retrieved 2008-04-28. [199] Ross, M. R. (2005). "Who Believes What? Clearing up Confusion over Intelligent Design and Young-Earth Creationism" (http:/ / www. nagt. org/ files/ nagt/ jge/ abstracts/ Ross_v53n3p319. pdf) (PDF). Journal of Geoscience Education 53 (3): 319. . Retrieved 2008-04-28. [200] Pennock, R. T. (2003). "Creationism and intelligent design". Annual Review of Genomics Human Genetics 4 (1): 143–63. doi:10.1146/annurev.genom.4.070802.110400. PMID 14527300. [201] National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine (2008). Science, Evolution, and Creationism (http:/ / books. nap. edu/ openbook. php?record_id=11876& page=R1). Washington, D.C: National Academies Press. ISBN 0-309-10586-2. . Retrieved 2011-03-13. [202] Colburn,, A.; Henriques, Laura (2006). "Clergy views on evolution, creationism, science, and religion". Journal of Research in Science Teaching 43 (4): 419–442. Bibcode 2006JRScT..43..419C. doi:10.1002/tea.20109. [203] Frye, Roland Mushat (1983). Is God a Creationist? The Religious Case Against Creation-Science. Scribner's. ISBN 0-684-17993-8. [204] Gould, S. J. (1997). "Nonoverlapping magisteria" (http:/ / www. jbburnett. com/ resources/ gould_nonoverlapping. pdf) (PDF). Natural History 106 (2): 16–22. . Retrieved 2008-04-28. [205] Russell, Jeffrey B. "The Myth of the Flat Earth" (http:/ / www. asa3. org/ ASA/ topics/ history/ 1997Russell. html). American Scientific Affiliation. . Retrieved 2007-03-14.; but see also Cosmas Indicopleustes. [206] Jacobs, James Q. (1998-02-01). "Archaeogeodesy, a Key to Prehistory" (http:/ / www. jqjacobs. net/ astro/ aegeo. html). . Retrieved 2007-04-21. [207] Fuller, R. Buckminster (1963). [[Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (http:/ / www. futurehi. net/ docs/ OperatingManual. html)]] (First ed.). New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. ISBN 0-525-47433-1. . Retrieved 2007-04-21. [208] Lovelock, James E. (1979). Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (First ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-286030-5. [209] For example: McMichael, Anthony J. (1993). Planetary Overload: Global Environmental Change and the Health of the Human Species. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-45759-9.




References Further reading
• Comins, Neil F. (2001). Discovering the Essential Universe (2nd ed.). W. H. Freeman. Bibcode 2003deu..book.....C. ISBN 0-7167-5804-0.

External links
• Earth - Profile (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Earth) - Solar System Exploration (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/) - NASA. • Earth - Temperature and Precipitation Extremes (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globalextremes. html) - NCDC. • Earth - Climate Changes Cause Shape to Change (http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/earthandsun/ earthshape.html) - NASA. • Earth - Geomagnetism Program (http://geomag.usgs.gov/) - USGS. • Earth - Astronaut Photography Gateway (http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/Coll/weekly.htm) - NASA. • Earth - Observatory (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/) - NASA. • Earth - Audio (29:28) - Cain/Gay - Astronomy Cast (2007) (http://www.astronomycast.com/stars/ episode-51-earth/). • Earth - Videos - International Space Station: • Video (01:02) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74mhQyuyELQ) - Earth (Time-Lapse). • Video (00:27) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6ahFFFQBZY) - Earth and Auroras (Time-Lapse).




True-color view of Mars seen through NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 1999
Designations Pronunciation Adjective


Martian Orbital characteristics Epoch J2000

Aphelion Perihelion Semi-major axis Eccentricity Orbital period

249,209,300 km 1.665 861 AU 206,669,000 km 1.381 497 AU 227,939,100 km 1.523 679 AU 0.093 315 686.971 days 1.8808 Julian years 668.5991 sols 779.96 days 2.135 Julian years 24.077 km/s 19.3564° 1.850° to ecliptic 5.65° to Sun's equator [2] 1.67° to invariable plane 49.562° 286.537° 2 Physical characteristics

Synodic period Average orbital speed Mean anomaly Inclination

Longitude of ascending node Argument of perihelion Satellites

Equatorial radius

3,396.2 ± 0.1 km 0.533 Earths

[3] [4]


[3] [4]

Polar radius

3,376.2 ± 0.1 km 0.531 Earths

Flattening Surface area

0.005 89 ± 0.000 15 144,798,500 km2 0.284 Earths 1.6318×1011 km3 0.151 Earths 6.4185×1023 kg 0.107 Earths




Mean density Equatorial surface gravity

3.9335 ± 0.0004 3.711 m/s² 0.376 g



Escape velocity Sidereal rotation period Equatorial rotation velocity Axial tilt North pole right ascension North pole declination Albedo

5.027 km/s 1.025 957 day [5] 24.622 9 h 868.22 km/h (unknown operator: u'strong' m/s) 25.19° 21 h 10 min 44 s 317.681 43° 52.886 50° 0.170 (geometric) [7] 0.25 (Bond) min 186 K mean 210 K
[7] [6]

Surface temp.    Kelvin    Celsius

max 293 K 20 °C

−87 °C −63 °C Apparent magnitude Angular diameter

+1.6 to −3.0 3.5–25.1" Atmosphere



Surface pressure

0.636 (0.4–0.87) kPa




• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

(mole fractions) 95.32% carbon dioxide 2.7% nitrogen 1.6% argon 0.13% oxygen 0.08% carbon monoxide 210 ppm water vapor 100 ppm nitric oxide [11] 15 ppm molecular hydrogen 2.5 ppm neon 850 ppb HDO 300 ppb krypton 130 ppb formaldehyde 80 ppb xenon [12] 18 ppb hydrogen peroxide [13] 10 ppb methane

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. Named after the Roman god of war, Mars, it is often described as the "Red Planet" as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance.[1] Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, having surface features reminiscent both of the impact craters of the Moon and the volcanoes, valleys, deserts, and polar ice caps of Earth. The rotational period and Animation that rolls Mars around to show all the major features of the Martian seasonal cycles of Mars are likewise topography. similar to those of Earth, as is the tilt that produces the seasons. Mars is the site of Olympus Mons, the highest known mountain within the Solar System, and of Valles Marineris, one of the largest canyons. The smooth Borealis basin in the northern hemisphere covers 40% of the planet and may be a giant impact feature.[2][3] Until the first successful flyby of Mars occurred in 1965, by Mariner 4, many speculated about the presence of liquid water on the planet's surface. This was based on observed periodic variations in light and dark patches, particularly in the polar latitudes, which appeared to be seas and continents; long, dark striations were interpreted by some as irrigation channels for liquid water. These straight line features were later explained as optical illusions, though geological evidence gathered by unmanned missions suggest that Mars once had large-scale water coverage on its surface.[4] In 2005, radar data revealed the presence of large quantities of water ice at the poles,[5] and at mid-latitudes.[6][7] The Mars rover Spirit sampled chemical compounds containing water molecules in March 2007. The Phoenix lander directly sampled water ice in shallow Martian soil on July 31, 2008.[8] Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, which are small and irregularly shaped. These may be captured asteroids, similar to 5261 Eureka, a Martian trojan asteroid. Mars is currently host to three functional orbiting spacecraft: Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and one on the surface, the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Defunct spacecraft on the surface include MER-A Spirit, and several other inert landers and rovers, both successful and unsuccessful such as the Phoenix lander, which completed its mission in 2008. Observations by NASA's now-defunct Mars Global Surveyor show evidence that parts of the southern polar ice cap have been receding.[9] Observations by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the

Mars warmest months on Mars.[10] Mars can easily be seen from Earth with the naked eye. Its apparent magnitude reaches −3.0[9], which is only surpassed by Jupiter, Venus, the Moon, and the Sun. Optical ground-based telescopes are typically limited to resolving features about 300 km (186 miles) across when Earth and Mars are closest, because of Earth's atmosphere.[11]


Physical characteristics
Mars has approximately half the diameter of Earth. It is less dense than Earth, having about 15% of Earth's volume and 11% of the mass. Its surface area is only slightly less than the total area of Earth's dry land.[7] While Mars is larger and more massive than Mercury, Mercury has a higher density. This results in the two planets having a nearly identical gravitational pull at the surface—that of Mars is stronger by less than 1%. The red-orange appearance of the Martian surface is caused by iron(III) oxide, more commonly known as hematite, or rust.[12]

Size comparison of Earth and Mars.

Mars is a terrestrial planet that consists of minerals containing silicon and oxygen, metals, and other elements that typically make up rock. The surface of Mars is primarily composed of tholeiitic basalt,[13] although parts are more silica-rich than typical basalt and may be similar to andesitic rocks on Earth or silica glass. Regions of low albedo show concentrations of plagioclase feldspar, with northern low albedo regions displaying higher than normal concentrations of sheet silicates and high-silicon glass. Parts of the southern highlands include detectable amounts of high-calcium pyroxenes. Localized concentrations of hematite and olivine have also been found.[14] Much of the surface is deeply covered by finely grained iron(III) oxide dust.[15][16]

Like Earth, this planet has undergone differentiation, resulting in a dense, metallic core region overlaid by less dense materials.[17] Current models of the planet's interior imply a core region about 1794 ± 65 km in radius, consisting primarily of iron and nickel with about 16–17% sulfur.[18] This iron sulfide core is partially fluid, and has twice the concentration of the lighter elements than exist at Earth's core. The core is surrounded by a silicate mantle that formed many of the tectonic and volcanic features on the planet, but now appears to be dormant. Besides silicon and oxygen, the most abundant elements in the martian crust are iron, magnesium, aluminum, calcium, and potassium. The average thickness of the planet's crust is about 50 km, with a maximum thickness of 125 km.[19] Earth's crust, averaging 40 km, is only one third as thick as Mars's crust, relative to the sizes of the two planets. Although Mars has no evidence of a current structured global magnetic field,[20] observations show that parts of the planet's crust have been magnetized, and that alternating polarity reversals of its dipole field have occurred in the past. This paleomagnetism of magnetically susceptible minerals has properties that are very similar to the alternating bands found on the ocean floors of Earth. One theory, published in 1999 and re-examined in October 2005 (with the

Global view of Mars as seen by the Viking 1 orbiter in 1980, showing the Valles Marineris (center)

Mars help of the Mars Global Surveyor), is that these bands demonstrate plate tectonics on Mars four billion years ago, before the planetary dynamo ceased to function and the planet's magnetic field faded away.[21] During the Solar System's formation, Mars was created as the result of a stochastic process of run-away accretion out of the protoplanetary disk that orbited the Sun. Mars has many distinctive chemical features caused by its position in the Solar System. Elements with comparatively low boiling points such as chlorine, phosphorus and sulphur are much more common on Mars than Earth; these elements were probably removed from areas closer to the Sun by the young star's energetic solar wind.[22] After the formation of the planets, all were subjected to the so-called "Late Heavy Bombardment". About 60% of the surface of Mars shows a record of impacts from that era,[23][24][25] while much of the remaining surface is probably underlain by immense impact basins caused by those events. There is evidence of an enormous impact basin in the northern hemisphere of Mars, spanning 10,600 km by 8,500 km, or roughly four times larger than the Moon's South Pole – Aitken basin, the largest impact basin yet discovered.[2][3] This theory suggests that Mars was struck by a Pluto-sized body about four billion years ago. The event, thought to be the cause of the Martian hemispheric dichotomy, created the smooth Borealis basin that covers 40% of the planet.[26][27] The geological history of Mars can be split into many periods, but the following are the three primary periods:[28][29] • Noachian period (named after Noachis Terra): Formation of the oldest extant surfaces of Mars, 4.5 billion years ago to 3.5 billion years ago. Noachian age surfaces are scarred by many large impact craters. The Tharsis bulge, a volcanic upland, is thought to have formed during this period, with extensive flooding by liquid water late in the period. • Hesperian period (named after Hesperia Planum): 3.5 billion years ago to 2.9–3.3 billion years ago. The Hesperian period is marked by the formation of extensive lava plains. • Amazonian period (named after Amazonis Planitia): 2.9–3.3 billion years ago to present. Amazonian regions have few meteorite impact craters, but are otherwise quite varied. Olympus Mons formed during this period, along with lava flows elsewhere on Mars. Some geological activity is still taking place on Mars. The Athabasca Valles is home to sheet-like lava flows up to about 200 Mya. Water flows in the grabens called the Cerberus Fossae occurred less than 20 Mya, indicating equally recent volcanic intrusions.[30] On February 19, 2008, images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed evidence of an avalanche from a 700 m high cliff.[31]


The Phoenix lander returned data showing Martian soil to be slightly alkaline and containing elements such as magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride. These nutrients are found in gardens on Earth, and are necessary for growth of plants.[32] Experiments performed by the Lander showed that the Martian soil has a basic pH of 8.3, and may contain traces of the salt perchlorate.[33][34] Streaks are common across Mars and new ones appear frequently on steep slopes of craters, troughs, and valleys. The streaks are dark at first and get lighter with age. Sometimes the streaks start in a tiny area which then spreads out for hundreds of metres. They have also been seen to follow the edges of boulders and other obstacles in their path. Rover exposes silica-rich dust The commonly accepted theories include that they are dark underlying layers of soil revealed after avalanches of bright dust or dust devils.[35] Several explanations have been put forward, some of which involve water or even the growth of organisms.[36][37]



Liquid water cannot exist on the surface of Mars due to low atmospheric pressure, except at the lowest elevations for short periods.[38][39] The two polar ice caps appear to be made largely of water.[40][41] The volume of water ice in the south polar ice cap, if melted, would be sufficient to cover the entire planetary surface to a depth of 11 meters.[42] A permafrost mantle stretches from the pole to latitudes of about 60°.[40] Large quantities of water ice are thought to be trapped within the thick cryosphere of Mars. Radar data from Mars Express and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show large quantities of water ice both at the poles (July 2005)[5][43] and at mid-latitudes (November 2008).[6] The Phoenix lander directly sampled water ice in shallow Martian soil on July 31, 2008.[8]

Microscopic photo taken by Opportunity showing a gray hematite concretion, indicative of the past presence of liquid water

Landforms visible on Mars strongly suggest that liquid water has at least at times existed on the planet's surface. Huge linear swathes of scoured ground, known as outflow channels, cut across the surface in around 25 places. These are thought to record erosion which occurred during the catastrophic release of water from subsurface aquifers, though some of these structures have also been hypothesised to result from the action of glaciers or lava.[44][45] The youngest of these channels are thought to have formed as recently as only a few million years ago.[46] Elsewhere, particularly on the oldest areas of the martian surface, finer-scale, dendritic networks of valleys are spread across significant proportions of the landscape. Features of these valleys and their distribution very strongly imply that they were carved by runoff resulting from rain or snow fall in early Mars history. Subsurface water flow and groundwater sapping may play important subsidiary roles in some networks, but precipitation was probably the root cause of the incision in almost all cases.[47] There are also thousands of features along crater and canyon walls that appear similar to terrestrial gullies. The gullies tend to be in the highlands of the southern hemisphere and to face the Equator; all are poleward of 30° latitude. A number of authors have suggested that their formation process demands the involvement of liquid water, probably from melting ice,[48][49] although others have argued for formation mechanisms involving carbon dioxide frost or the movement of dry dust.[50][51] No partially degraded gullies have formed by weathering and no superimposed impact craters have been observed, indicating that these are very young features, possibly even active today.[49] Other geological features, such as deltas and alluvial fans preserved in craters, also argue very strongly for warmer, wetter conditions at some interval or intervals in earlier Mars history.[52] Such conditions necessarily require the widespread presence of crater lakes across a large proportion of the surface, for which there is also independent mineralogical, sedimentological and geomorphological evidence.[53] Some authors have even gone so far as to argue that at times in the martian past, much of the low northern plains of the planet were covered with a true ocean hundreds of meters deep, though this remains controversial.[54] Further evidence that liquid water once existed on the surface of Mars comes from the detection of specific minerals such as hematite and goethite, both of which sometimes form in the presence of water.[55] Some of the evidence believed to indicate ancient water basins and flows has been negated by higher resolution studies by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.[56] In 2004, Opportunity detected the mineral jarosite. This forms only in the presence of acidic water, which demonstrates that water once existed on Mars.[57] More recent evidence for liquid water comes from the finding of the mineral gypsum on the surface by NASA's Mars rover Opportunity in December 2011. [58][59] Additionally, the study leader Francis McCubbin, a planetary scientist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque looking at hydroxals in crystalline minerals from Mars states the amount of water in the upper mantle

Mars of Mars is equal to or greater than that of Earth at 50-300 parts per million of water which is enough to cover the entire planet to a depth of 200 to 1000 meters.[60] Polar caps


Northern ice cap of Mars in 1999

South polar cap in 2000

Mars has two permanent polar ice caps. During a pole's winter, it lies in continuous darkness, chilling the surface and causing the deposition of 25–30% of the atmosphere into slabs of CO2 ice (dry ice).[61] When the poles are again exposed to sunlight, the frozen CO2 sublimes, creating enormous winds that sweep off the poles as fast as 400 km/h. These seasonal actions transport large amounts of dust and water vapor, giving rise to Earth-like frost and large cirrus clouds. Clouds of water-ice were photographed by the Opportunity rover in 2004.[62] The polar caps at both poles consist primarily of water ice. Frozen carbon dioxide accumulates as a comparatively thin layer about one metre thick on the north cap in the northern winter only, while the south cap has a permanent dry ice cover about eight metres thick.[63] The northern polar cap has a diameter of about 1,000 kilometres during the northern Mars summer,[64] and contains about 1.6 million cubic km of ice, which if spread evenly on the cap would be 2 km thick.[65] (This compares to a volume of 2.85 million cubic km (km3) for the Greenland ice sheet.) The southern polar cap has a diameter of 350 km and a thickness of 3 km.[66] The total volume of ice in the south polar cap plus the adjacent layered deposits has also been estimated at 1.6 million cubic km.[67] Both polar caps show spiral troughs, which recent analysis of SHARAD ice penetrating radar has shown are a result of katabatic winds that spiral due to the Coriolis Effect.[68][69] The seasonal frosting of some areas near the southern ice cap results in the formation of transparent 1 metre thick slabs of dry ice above the ground. With the arrival of spring, sunlight warms the subsurface and pressure from subliming CO2 builds up under a slab, elevating and ultimately rupturing it. This leads to geyser-like eruptions of CO2 gas mixed with dark basaltic sand or dust. This process is rapid, observed happening in the space of a few days, weeks or months, a rate of change rather unusual in geology—especially for Mars. The gas rushing underneath a slab to the site of a geyser carves a spider-like pattern of radial channels under the ice.[][70][71][72]



Although better remembered for mapping the Moon, Johann Heinrich Mädler and Wilhelm Beer were the first "areographers". They began by establishing that most of Mars's surface features were permanent, and more precisely determining the planet's rotation period. In 1840, Mädler combined ten years of observations and drew the first map of Mars. Rather than giving names to the various markings, Beer and Mädler simply designated them with letters; Meridian Bay (Sinus Meridiani) was thus feature "a."[73] Today, features on Mars are named from a variety of sources. Albedo features are named for classical mythology. Craters larger than 60 Volcanic plateaus (red) and impact basins (blue) kilometres (unknown operator: u'strong' mi) are named for deceased dominate this topographic map of Mars scientists and writers and others who have contributed to the study of Mars. Craters smaller than 60 km are named for towns and villages of the world with populations of less than 100,000. Large valleys are named for the word mars or star in various languages, small valleys are named for rivers.[74] Large albedo features retain many of the older names, but are often updated to reflect new knowledge of the nature of the features. For example, Nix Olympica (the snows of Olympus) has become Olympus Mons (Mount Olympus).[75] The surface of Mars as seen from Earth is divided into two kinds of areas, with differing albedo. The paler plains covered with dust and sand rich in reddish iron oxides were once thought of as Martian 'continents' and given names like Arabia Terra (land of Arabia) or Amazonis Planitia (Amazonian plain). The dark features were thought to be seas, hence their names Mare Erythraeum, Mare Sirenum and Aurorae Sinus. The largest dark feature seen from Earth is Syrtis Major Planum.[76] The permanent northern polar ice cap is named Planum Boreum, while the southern cap is called Planum Australe. Mars's equator is defined by its rotation, but the location of its Prime Meridian was specified, as was Earth's (at Greenwich), by choice of an arbitrary point; Mädler and Beer selected a line in 1830 for their first maps of Mars. After the spacecraft Mariner 9 provided extensive imagery of Mars in 1972, a small crater (later called Airy-0), located in the Sinus Meridiani ("Middle Bay" or "Meridian Bay"), was chosen for the definition of 0.0° longitude to coincide with the original selection.[77] Since Mars has no oceans and hence no 'sea level', a zero-elevation surface also had to be selected as a reference level; this is also called the areoid[78] of Mars, analogous to the terrestrial geoid. Zero altitude is defined by the height at which there is 610.5 Pa (unknown operator: u'strong' mbar) of atmospheric pressure.[79] This pressure corresponds to the triple point of water, and is about 0.6% of the sea level surface pressure on Earth (0.006 atm).[80] In practice, today this surface is defined directly from satellite gravity measurements.

An approximate true-color image, taken by Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, shows the view of Victoria Crater from Cape Verde. It was captured over a three-week period, from October 16 – November 6, 2006.

Mars Impact topography The dichotomy of Martian topography is striking: northern plains flattened by lava flows contrast with the southern highlands, pitted and cratered by ancient impacts. Research in 2008 has presented evidence regarding a theory proposed in 1980 postulating that, four billion years ago, the northern hemisphere of Mars was struck by an object one-tenth to two-thirds the size of the Moon. If validated, this would make the northern hemisphere of Mars the site of an impact crater 10,600 km long by 8,500 km wide, or roughly the area of Europe, Asia, and Australia combined, surpassing the South Pole – Aitken basin as the largest impact crater in the Solar System.[2][3] Mars is scarred by a number of impact craters: a total of 43,000 craters with a diameter of 5 km or greater have been found.[81] The largest confirmed of these is the Hellas impact basin, a light albedo feature clearly visible from Earth.[82] Due to the smaller mass of Mars, the probability of an object colliding with the planet is about half that of the Earth. Mars is located closer to the asteroid belt, so it has an increased chance of being struck by materials from that source. Mars is also more likely to be struck by short-period comets, i.e., those that lie within the orbit of Jupiter.[83] In spite of this, there are far fewer craters on Mars compared with the Moon because the atmosphere of Mars provides protection against small meteors. Some craters have a morphology that suggests the ground became wet after the meteor impacted.[84] Tectonic sites The shield volcano, Olympus Mons (Mount Olympus), at 27 km is the highest known mountain in the Solar System.[85] It is an extinct volcano in the vast upland region Tharsis, which contains several other large volcanoes. Olympus Mons is over three times the height of Mount Everest, which in comparison stands at just over 8.8 km.[86] The large canyon, Valles Marineris (Latin for Mariner Valleys, also known as Agathadaemon in the old canal maps), has a length of 4,000 km and a depth of up to 7 km. The length of Valles Marineris is equivalent to the length of Europe and extends across one-fifth the circumference of Mars. By comparison, the Grand Canyon on Earth is only 446 km long and nearly 2 km deep. Valles Marineris was formed Top down view of Olympus Mons, the highest due to the swelling of the Tharsis area which caused the crust in the known mountain in the solar system area of Valles Marineris to collapse. Another large canyon is Ma'adim Vallis (Ma'adim is Hebrew for Mars). It is 700 km long and again much bigger than the Grand Canyon with a width of 20 km and a depth of 2 km in some places. It is possible that Ma'adim Vallis was flooded with liquid water in the past.[87]


Mars Caves Images from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter have revealed seven possible cave entrances on the flanks of the Arsia Mons volcano.[88] The caves, named after loved ones of their discoverers, are collectively known as the "seven sisters."[89] Cave entrances measure from 100 m to 252 m wide and they are believed to be at least 73 m to 96 m deep. Because light does not reach the floor of most of the caves, it is likely that they extend much deeper than these lower estimates and widen below the surface. "Dena" is the only exception; its floor is visible and was measured to be 130 m deep. The interiors of these caverns may be protected from micrometeoroids, UV radiation, solar flares and high energy particles that bombard the planet's surface.[90]


THEMIS image of probable Mars cave entrances, informally named (A) Dena, (B) Chloe, (C) Wendy, (D) Annie, (E) Abby (left) and Nikki, and (F) Jeanne.

Mars lost its magnetosphere 4 billion years ago,[91] so the solar wind interacts directly with the Martian ionosphere, lowering the atmospheric density by stripping away atoms from the outer layer. Both Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Express have detected ionised atmospheric particles trailing off into space behind Mars.[91][92] Compared to Earth, the atmosphere of Mars is quite rarefied. Atmospheric pressure on the surface today ranges from a low of 30 Pa (unknown operator: u'strong' kPa) on Olympus Mons to over unknown operator: u','unknown operator: u','unknown operator: u',' (unknown operator: u'strong'unknown operator: u','kPa) in the Hellas Planitia, with a mean pressure at the surface level of 600 Pa (unknown operator: u'strong' kPa).[93] The highest atmospheric density on Mars is equal to the density found 35 km[94] above the The tenuous atmosphere of Mars, visible on the Earth's surface. The resulting maximum surface pressure is only 0.6% horizon in this low-orbit photo of that of the Earth (101.3 kPa). The scale height of the atmosphere is about 10.8 km,[95] which is higher than Earth's (6 km) because the surface gravity of Mars is only about 38% of Earth's, an effect offset by both the lower temperature and 50% higher average molecular weight of the atmosphere of Mars. The atmosphere of Mars consists of about 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, 1.6% argon and contains traces of oxygen and water.[7] The atmosphere is quite dusty, containing particulates about 1.5 µm in diameter which give the Martian sky a tawny color when seen from the surface.[96] Methane has been detected in the Martian atmosphere with a mole fraction of about 30 ppb;[13][97] it occurs in extended plumes, and the profiles imply that the methane was released from discrete regions. In northern midsummer, the principal plume contained 19,000 metric tons of methane, with an estimated source strength of 0.6 kilogram per second.[98][99] The profiles suggest that there may be two local source regions, the first centered near 30° N, 260° W and the second near 0°, 310° W.[98] It is estimated that Mars must produce 270 ton/year of methane.[98][100]

Methane map

Mars The implied methane destruction lifetime may be as long as about 4 Earth years and as short as about 0.6 Earth years.[98][101] This rapid turnover would indicate an active source of the gas on the planet. Volcanic activity, cometary impacts, and the presence of methanogenic microbial life forms are among possible sources. Methane could also be produced by a non-biological process called serpentinization[102] involving water, carbon dioxide, and the mineral olivine, which is known to be common on Mars.[103] Ammonia was also tentatively detected on Mars by the Mars Express satellite, but with its relatively short lifetime its not clear what produced it.[104] Ammonia is not stable there and breaks down after a few hours, so one possible source is volcanic activity.[104]


Of all the planets in the Solar System, the seasons of Mars are the most Earth-like, due to the similar tilts of the two planets' rotational axes. The lengths of the Martian seasons are about twice those of Earth's, as Mars's greater distance from the Sun leads to the Martian year being about two Earth years long. Martian surface temperatures vary from lows of about −87 °C (−unknown operator: u'strong' °F) during the polar winters to highs of up to −5 °C (unknown operator: u'strong' °F) in summers.[38] The wide range in temperatures is due to the thin atmosphere which cannot store much solar heat, the low atmospheric pressure, and the low thermal inertia of Martian soil.[105] The planet is also 1.52 times as far from the sun as Earth, resulting in just 43% of the amount of sunlight.[106]

If Mars had an Earth-like orbit, its seasons would be similar to Earth's because its axial tilt is similar to Earth's. The comparatively large eccentricity of the Martian orbit has a significant effect. Mars is near perihelion when it is summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the north, and near aphelion when it is winter in the southern hemisphere and summer in the north. As a result, the seasons in the southern hemisphere are more extreme and the seasons in the northern are milder than would otherwise be the case. The summer temperatures in the south can reach up to 30 °C (unknown operator: u'strong' °F) warmer than the equivalent summer temperatures in the north.[107] Mars also has the largest dust storms in our Solar System. These can vary from a storm over a small area, to gigantic storms that cover the entire planet. They tend to occur when Mars is closest to the Sun, and have been shown to increase the global temperature.[108]

Mars from Hubble Space Telescope October 28, 2005 with dust storm visible.



Orbit and rotation
Mars's average distance from the Sun is roughly 230 million km (1.5 AU) and its orbital period is 687 (Earth) days. The solar day (or sol) on Mars is only slightly longer than an Earth day: 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds. A Martian year is equal to 1.8809 Earth years, or 1 year, 320 days, and 18.2 hours.[7] The axial tilt of Mars is 25.19 degrees, which is similar to the axial tilt of the Earth.[7] As a result, Mars has seasons like the Earth, though on Mars they are nearly twice as long given its longer year. Currently the orientation of the north pole of Mars is close to the star Deneb.[10] Mars passed an aphelion in March 2010[109] and its perihelion in March 2011.[110] The next aphelion came in February 2012[110] and the next perihelion comes in January 2013.[110]

Mars has a relatively pronounced orbital eccentricity of about 0.09; of the seven other planets in the Solar System, only Mercury shows greater eccentricity. It is known that in the past Mars has had a much more circular orbit than it does currently. At one point 1.35 million Earth years ago, Mars had an eccentricity of roughly 0.002, much less than that of Earth today.[111] The Mars cycle of eccentricity is 96,000 Earth years compared to the Earth's cycle of 100,000 years.[112] Mars also has a much longer cycle of eccentricity with a period of 2.2 million Earth years, and this overshadows the 96,000-year cycle in the eccentricity graphs. For the last 35,000 years the orbit of Mars has been getting slightly more eccentric because of the gravitational effects of the other planets. The closest distance between the Earth and Mars will continue to mildly decrease for the next 25,000 years.[113]

Mars's average distance from the Sun is roughly 230 million km (1.5 AU) and its orbital period is 687 (Earth) days as depicted by the red trail, with Earth's orbit shown in blue.(Animation)

Images comparing Mars's orbit with Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt. The left is shown from the north ecliptic pole. The right is shown from the ascending node. The segments of orbits south of the ecliptic are plotted in darker colors. The perihelia (q) and aphelia (Q) are labelled with the date of nearest passage. The orbit of Mars is red, Ceres is yellow.




Phobos in color by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – HiRISE, on March 23, 2008

Deimos in color on February 21, 2009 by the same (not to scale)

Mars has two relatively small natural moons, Phobos and Deimos, which orbit close to the planet. Asteroid capture is a long-favored theory but their origin remains uncertain.[114] Both satellites were discovered in 1877 by Asaph Hall, and are named after the characters Phobos (panic/fear) and Deimos (terror/dread) who, in Greek mythology, accompanied their father Ares, god of war, into battle. Mars was the Roman counterpart of Ares.[115][116] In modern Greek, though, the planet retains its ancient name Ares (Aris: Άρης).[117] From the surface of Mars, the motions of Phobos and Deimos appear very different from that of our own moon. Phobos rises in the west, sets in the east, and rises again in just 11 hours. Deimos, being only just outside synchronous orbit—where the orbital period would match the planet's period of rotation—rises as expected in the east but very slowly. Despite the 30 hour orbit of Deimos, it takes 2.7 days to set in the west as it slowly falls behind the rotation of Mars, then just as long again to rise.[118] Because the orbit of Phobos is below synchronous altitude, the tidal forces from the planet Mars are gradually lowering its orbit. In about 50 million years it could either crash into Mars's surface or break up into a ring structure around the planet.[118] The origin of the two moons is not well understood. Their low albedo and carbonaceous chondrite composition have been regarded as similar to asteroids, supporting the capture theory. The unstable orbit of Phobos would seem to point towards a relatively recent capture. But both have circular orbits, very near the equator, which is very unusual for captured objects and the required capture dynamics are complex. Accretion early in the history of Mars is also plausible but would not account for a composition resembling asteroids rather than Mars itself, if that is confirmed. A third possibility is the involvement of a third body or some kind of impact disruption.[119] More recent lines of evidence for Phobos having a highly porous interior[120] and suggesting a composition containing mainly phyllosilicates and other minerals known from Mars,[121] point toward an origin of Phobos from material ejected by an impact on Mars that reaccreted in Martian orbit,[122] similar to the prevailing theory for the origin of Earth's moon. While the VNIR spectra of the moons of Mars resemble those of outer belt asteroids, the thermal infrared spectra of Phobos are reported to be inconsistent with chondrites of any class.[121]



Search for life

Viking Lander 2 site May 1979

Viking Lander 1 site February 1978.

The current understanding of planetary habitability—the ability of a world to develop and sustain life—favors planets that have liquid water on their surface. This most often requires that the orbit of a planet lie within the habitable zone, which for the Sun currently extends from just beyond Venus to about the semi-major axis of Mars.[123] During perihelion Mars dips inside this region, but the planet's thin (low-pressure) atmosphere prevents liquid water from existing over large regions for extended periods. The past flow of liquid water demonstrates the planet's potential for habitability. Some recent evidence has suggested that any water on the Martian surface may have been too salty and acidic to support regular terrestrial life.[124] The lack of a magnetosphere and extremely thin atmosphere of Mars are a challenge: the planet has little heat transfer across its surface, poor insulation against bombardment of the solar wind and insufficient atmospheric pressure to retain water in a liquid form (water instead sublimates to a gaseous state). Mars is also nearly, or perhaps totally, geologically dead; the end of volcanic activity has apparently stopped the recycling of chemicals and minerals between the surface and interior of the planet.[125] Evidence suggests that the planet was once significantly more habitable than it is today, but whether living organisms ever existed there remains unknown. The Viking probes of the mid-1970s carried experiments designed to detect microorganisms in Martian soil at their respective landing sites and had positive results, including a temporary increase of CO2 production on exposure to water and nutrients. This sign of life was later disputed by some scientists, resulting in a continuing debate, with NASA scientist Gilbert Levin asserting that Viking may have found life. A re-analysis of the Viking data, in light of modern knowledge of extremophile forms of life, has suggested that the Viking tests were not sophisticated enough to detect these forms of life. The tests could even have killed a (hypothetical) life form.[126] Tests conducted by the Phoenix Mars lander have shown that the soil has a very alkaline pH and it contains magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride.[127] The soil nutrients may be able to support life but life would still have to be shielded from the intense ultraviolet light.[128] At the Johnson Space Center lab, some fascinating shapes have been found in the meteorite ALH84001, which is thought to have originated from Mars. Some scientists propose that these geometric shapes could be fossilized microbes extant on Mars before the meteorite was blasted into space by a meteor strike and sent on a 15 million-year voyage to Earth. An exclusively inorganic origin for the shapes has also been proposed.[129] Small quantities of methane and formaldehyde recently detected by Mars orbiters are both claimed to be hints for life, as these chemical compounds would quickly break down in the Martian atmosphere.[130][131] It is remotely

Mars possible that these compounds may instead be replenished by volcanic or geological means such as serpentinization.[103]


Exploration missions
In addition to observation from Earth, some of the latest Mars information comes from four active probes on or in orbit around Mars as of 2012: 2001 Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Opportunity rover. The public can request photos of Mars's surface at 25 cm a pixel with the HiWish program, which uses a 50 cm diameter telescope in Mars orbit. In the past, dozens of spacecraft, including orbiters, landers, and Western rim of Endeavour Crater rovers, have been sent to Mars by the Soviet Union, the United States, Europe, and Japan to study the planet's surface, climate, and geology. As of 2008, the price of transporting material from the surface of Earth to the surface of Mars was approximately US$309,000 per kilogram.[132]

Current missions
The NASA Mars Odyssey orbiter entered Mars orbit in 2001.[133] Odyssey's Gamma Ray Spectrometer detected significant amounts of hydrogen in the upper metre or so of regolith on Mars. This hydrogen is thought to be contained in large deposits of water ice.[134] The Mars Express mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) reached Mars in 2003. It carried the Beagle 2 lander, which failed during descent and was declared lost in February, 2004.[135] In early 2004 the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer team announced the orbiter had detected methane in the Martian atmosphere. ESA announced in June 2006 the discovery of aurorae on Mars.[136] In January 2004, the NASA twin Mars Exploration Rovers named Spirit (MER-A) and Opportunity (MER-B) landed on the surface of Mars. Both have met or exceeded all their targets. Among the most significant scientific returns has been conclusive evidence that liquid water existed at some time in the past at both landing sites. Martian dust devils and windstorms have occasionally cleaned both rovers' solar panels, and thus increased their lifespan.[137] Spirit Rover (MER-A) was active until 2010, when it stopped sending data. On March 10, 2006, the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) probe arrived in orbit to conduct a two-year science survey. The orbiter began mapping the Martian terrain and weather to find suitable landing sites for upcoming lander missions. The MRO snapped the first image of a series of active avalanches near the planet's north pole, scientists said March 3, 2008.[138] The Mars Science Laboratory, named Curiosity, launched on November 26, 2011, and is expected to reach Mars in August 2012. It is larger and more advanced than the Mars Exploration Rovers, with a movement rate of 90 m/h. Experiments include a laser chemical sampler that can deduce the make-up of rocks at a distance of 13 m.[139]

Past missions



Attempted Martian missions
Decade 1960s 13 1970s 11 1980s 2 1990s 8 2000s 8 2010s 2

The first successful fly-by of Mars was on July 14–15, 1965, by NASA's Mariner 4.[140] On November 14, 1971 Mariner 9 became the first space probe to orbit another planet when it entered into orbit around Mars.[141] The first to contact the surface were two Soviet probes: Mars 2 lander on November 27 and Mars 3 lander on December 2, 1971—Mars 2 failed during descent and Mars 3 seconds after landing.[142] Mars 6 failed during descent but did return some atmospheric data in 1974.[143] The 1975 NASA launches of the Viking program consisted of two orbiters, each having a lander; both landers Mars 3 lander on a 1972 Soviet stamp. successfully touched down in 1976. Viking 1 remained operational for six years, Viking 2 for three. The Viking landers relayed the first color [144] panoramas of Mars and the orbiters mapped the surface so well that the images remain in use. The Soviet probes Phobos 1 and 2 were sent to Mars in 1988 to study Mars and its two moons, but with a focus on Phobos. Phobos 1 lost contact on the way to Mars. Phobos 2, while successfully photographing Mars and Phobos, failed before it was set to release two landers to the surface of Phobos.[145] Roughly two-thirds of all spacecraft destined for Mars have failed without completing their missions, and it has a reputation as difficult space exploration target.[146] Failures since Viking include Phobos 1 & 2 (1988), Mars Observer (1990), Mars 96 (1996), Mars Climate Orbiter (1999), Mars Polar Lander with Deep Space 2 (1999), Nozomi (2003), Beagle 2 (2003), and Fobos-Grunt with Yinghuo-1 (2011).



Mars Pathfinder rover on Mars, 1997

View from the Phoenix lander, 2008

Following the 1992 failure of the Mars Observer orbiter, the NASA Mars Global Surveyor achieved Mars orbit in 1997. This mission was a complete success, having finished its primary mapping mission in early 2001. Contact was lost with the probe in November 2006 during its third extended program, spending exactly 10 operational years in space. The NASA Mars Pathfinder, carrying a robotic exploration vehicle Sojourner, landed in the Ares Vallis on Mars in the summer of 1997, returning many images.[147] The NASA Phoenix Mars lander arrived on the north polar region of Mars on May 25, 2008.[148] Its robotic arm was used to dig into the Martian soil and the presence of water ice was confirmed on June 20.[149][150][150] The mission concluded on November 10, 2008 after contact was lost.[151] Rosetta came within 250 km of Mars during its 2007 flyby.[152] Dawn flew by Mars in February 2009 for a gravity assist on its way to investigate Vesta and then Ceres.[153]

Future missions
In 2008, NASA announced MAVEN, a robotic mission in 2013 to provide information about the atmosphere of Mars.[154] In 2016, the Russian and ESA plan to send rover and static lander to Mars. In 2018 the ESA plans to launch its first Rover to Mars; the ExoMars rover will be capable of drilling 2 m into the soil in search of organic molecules.[155] NASA requested innovative proposals for a new Mars mission by May 10, 2012.[156] One existing proposal is NASA Discovery program's InSight, which would place a geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior, and understand the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system.[157] The Finnish-Russian MetNet concept would use multiple small vehicles on Mars to establish a widespread observation network to investigate the planet's atmospheric structure, physics and meteorology.[158][159] MetNet was considered for a piggyback launch on Phobos-Grunt.[160] A Russian mission concept is Mars-Grunt, a Mars surface sample return mission.[159] Another proposal is the ESA-NASA three-launch architecture for Mars sample return, which uses a rover to cache small samples, a Mars ascent stage to send it into orbit, and an orbiter to rendezvous with it above Mars and take it to Earth.[161] Solar-electric propulsion could allow a one launch sample return instead of three.[162] Another sample return concept was Mars Scout Program's SCIM, which would involve a probe grazing the upper atmosphere to scoop up dust and air for Earth return.[163] Future mission ideas include new polar probes, Martian aircraft, or a network of small stations.[161] Longterm areas of study may include Martian lava tubes, resource utilization, and electronic charge carriers in rocks.[164][165] Micromissions are another possibility, such as piggybacking a wok-sized spacecraft on an Ariane 5 launch and using a lunar gravity assist to get to Mars[166]



Manned mission goals
The ESA hopes to land humans on Mars between 2030 and 2035.[167] This will be preceded by successively larger probes, starting with the launch of the ExoMars probe[168] and a joint NASA–ESA Mars sample return mission.[169] Manned exploration by the United States was identified as a long-term goal in the Vision for Space Exploration announced in 2004 by then US President George W. Bush.[170] The planned Orion spacecraft would be used to send a human expedition to Earth's moon by 2020 as a stepping stone to a Mars expedition. On September 28, 2007, NASA administrator Michael D. Griffin stated that NASA aims to put a man on Mars by 2037.[171] Mars Direct, a low-cost human mission proposed by Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society, would use heavy-lift Saturn V class rockets, such as the SpaceX Falcon X, or, the Ares V, to skip orbital construction, LEO rendezvous, and lunar fuel depots. A modified proposal, called "Mars to Stay", involves not returning the first immigrant explorers immediately, if ever (see Colonization of Mars).[172]

Astronomy on Mars
With the existence of various orbiters, landers, and rovers, it is now possible to study astronomy from the Martian skies. While Mars's moon Phobos appears about one third the angular diameter of the full Moon as it appears from Earth, Deimos appears more or less star-like, and appears only slightly brighter than Venus does from Earth.[173] There are various phenomena, well-known on Earth, that have been observed on Mars, such as meteors and auroras.[136] A transit of the Earth as seen from Mars will occur on November 10, 2084.[174] There are also transits of Mercury and transits of Venus, and the moons Phobos and Deimos are of sufficiently small angular diameter that their partial "eclipses" of the Sun are best considered transits (see Transit of Deimos from Mars).[175][176]

Phobos transits the Sun, as seen by Mars Rover Opportunity on March 10, 2004



Because the orbit of Mars is eccentric its apparent magnitude at opposition from the Sun can range from −3.0 to −1.4. The minimum brightness is magnitude +1.6 when the planet is in conjunction with the Sun.[9] Mars usually appears a distinct yellow, orange, or reddish color; the actual color of Mars is closer to butterscotch, and the redness seen is just dust in the planet's atmosphere; considering this NASA's Spirit rover has taken pictures of a greenish-brown, mud-colored landscape with blue-grey rocks and patches of light red colored sand.[177] When farthest away from the Earth, it is more than seven times as far from the latter as when it is closest. When least favorably positioned, it can be lost in the Sun's glare for months at a Animation of the apparent retrograde motion of Mars in 2003 as seen from Earth time. At its most favorable times—at 15- or 17-year intervals, and always between late July and late September—Mars shows a wealth of surface detail to a telescope. Especially noticeable, even at low magnification, are the polar ice caps.[178] As Mars approaches opposition it begins a period of retrograde motion, which means it will appear to move backwards in a looping motion with respect to the background stars. The duration of this retrograde motion lasts for about 72 days, and Mars reaches its peak luminosity in the middle of this motion.[179]

Closest approaches
Relative The point Mars's geocentric longitude is 180° different from the Sun's is known as opposition, which is near the time of closest approach to the Earth. The time of opposition can occur as much as 8½ days away from the closest approach. The distance at close approach varies between about 54[180] and about 103 million km due to the planets' elliptical orbits, which causes comparable variation in angular size.[181] The last Mars opposition occurred on March 3, 2012 at a distance of about 100 million km.[182] The average time between the successive oppositions of Mars, its synodic period, is 780 days but the number of days between the dates of successive oppositions can range from 764 to 812.[183] As Mars approaches opposition it begins a period of retrograde motion, which makes it appear to move backwards in a looping motion relative to the background stars. The duration of this retrograde motion is about 72 days.

Mars Absolute, around the present time Mars made its closest approach to Earth and maximum apparent brightness in nearly 60,000 years, 55,758,006 km (0.372719 AU), magnitude −2.88, on 27 August 2003 at 9:51:13 UT. This occurred when Mars was one day from opposition and about three days from its perihelion, making Mars particularly easy to see from Earth. The last time it came so close is estimated to have been on September 12, 57 617 BC, the next time being in 2287.[184] This record approach was only very slightly closer than other recent close approaches. For instance, the minimum distance on August 22, 1924 was 0.37285 AU, and the minimum distance on August 24, 2208 will be 0.37279 AU.[112] An email sent during the close approach in 2003 has, in succeeding years, repeatedly spawned hoax emails saying that Mars will look as big as the Moon.[185]


Mars oppositions from 2003–2018, viewed from above the ecliptic with the Earth centered

Historical observations
The history of observations of Mars is marked by the oppositions of Mars, when the planet is closest to Earth and hence is most easily visible, which occur every couple of years. Even more notable are the perihelic oppositions of Mars which occur every 15 or 17 years, and are distinguished because Mars is close to perihelion, making it even closer to Earth.

Ancient and medieval observations
The existence of Mars as a wandering object in the night sky was recorded by the ancient Egyptian astronomers and by 1534 BCE they were familiar with the retrograde motion of the planet.[186] By the period of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Babylonian astronomers were making regular records of the positions of the planets and systematic observations of their behavior. For Mars, they knew that the planet made 37 synodic periods, or 42 circuits of the zodiac, every 79 years. They also invented arithmetic methods for making minor corrections to the predicted positions of the planets.[187][188] In the fourth century BCE, Aristotle noted that Mars disappeared behind the Moon during an occultation, indicating the planet was farther away.[189] Ptolemy, a Greek living in Alexandria,[190] attempted to address the problem of the orbital motion of Mars. Ptolemy's model and his collective work on astronomy was presented in the multi-volume collection Almagest, which became the authoritative treatise on Western astronomy for the next fourteen centuries.[191] Literature from ancient China confirms that Mars was known by Chinese astronomers by no later than the fourth century BCE.[192] In the fifth century CE, the Indian astronomical text Surya Siddhanta estimated the diameter of Mars.[193] During the seventeenth century, Tycho Brahe measured the diurnal parallax of Mars that Johannes Kepler used to make a preliminary calculation of the relative distance to the planet.[194] When the telescope became available, the

Mars diurnal parallax of Mars was again measured in an effort to determine the Sun-Earth distance. This was first performed by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in 1672. The early parallax measurements were hampered by the quality of the instruments.[195] The only occultation of Mars by Venus observed was that of October 13, 1590, seen by Michael Maestlin at Heidelberg.[196] In 1610, Mars was viewed by Galileo Galilei, who was first to see it via telescope.[197] The first person to draw a map of Mars that displayed any terrain features was the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.[198]


Martian "canals"

Map of Mars by Giovanni Schiaparelli

Mars sketched as observed by Lowell sometime before 1914. (South top)

Map of Mars from Hubble Space Telescope as seen near the 1999 opposition. (North top)

By the 19th century, the resolution of telescopes reached a level sufficient for surface features to be identified. In September 1877, a perihelic opposition of Mars occurred on September 5. In that year, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli used a 22 cm telescope in Milan to help produce the first detailed map of Mars. These maps notably contained features he called canali, which were later shown to be an optical illusion. These canali were supposedly long straight lines on the surface of Mars to which he gave names of famous rivers on Earth. His term, which means "channels" or "grooves", was popularly mistranslated in English as "canals".[199][200] Influenced by the observations, the orientalist Percival Lowell founded an observatory which had a 300 and 450 mm telescope. The observatory was used for the exploration of Mars during the last good opportunity in 1894 and the following less favorable oppositions. He published several books on Mars and life on the planet, which had a great influence on the public.[201] The canali were also found by other astronomers, like Henri Joseph Perrotin and Louis Thollon in Nice, using one of the largest telescopes of that time.[202][203] The seasonal changes (consisting of the diminishing of the polar caps and the dark areas formed during Martian summer) in combination with the canals lead to speculation about life on Mars, and it was a long held belief that Mars contained vast seas and vegetation. The telescope never reached the resolution required to give proof to any speculations. As bigger telescopes were used, fewer long, straight canali were observed. During an observation in 1909 by Flammarion with a 840 mm telescope, irregular patterns were observed, but no canali were seen.[204] Even in the 1960s articles were published on Martian biology, putting aside explanations other than life for the seasonal changes on Mars. Detailed scenarios for the metabolism and chemical cycles for a functional ecosystem have been published.[205]



Spacecraft visitation
It was not until spacecraft visited the planet during NASA's Mariner missions in the 1960s and 70s that these myths were radically broken. In addition, the results of the Viking life-detection experiments aided an intermission in which the hypothesis of a hostile, dead planet was generally accepted.[206] Mariner 9 and Viking allowed better maps of Mars to be made using the data from these missions, and another major leap forward was the Mars Global Surveyor mission, launched in 1996 and operated until late 2006, that allowed complete, extremely detailed maps of the martian topography, magnetic field and surface minerals to be obtained.[207] These maps are now available online, for example, at Google Mars. This tradition was further extended by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Express.

In culture
Mars is named after the Roman god of war. In different cultures, Mars represents masculinity and youth. Its symbol, a circle with an arrow pointing out to the upper right, is also used as a symbol for the male gender. Mars has been featured in science fiction media, and one theme is intelligent "Martians", responsible for the speculated "canals" and "faces" on the planet. Another theme is Mars being a future colony of the Earth, or target for a human expedition. The many failures in Mars exploration probes resulted in a satirical counter-culture blaming the failures on an Earth-Mars "Bermuda Triangle", a "Mars Curse", or a "Great Galactic Ghoul" that feeds on Martian spacecraft.[146]

Martian geological features, such as the "Face on Mars", sometimes trigger facial pareidolia



Intelligent "Martians"
The popular idea that Mars was populated by intelligent Martians exploded in the late 19th century. Schiaparelli's "canali" observations combined with Percival Lowell's books on the subject put forward the standard notion of a planet that was a drying, cooling, dying world with ancient civilizations constructing irrigation works.[208] Many other observations and proclamations by notable personalities added to what has been termed "Mars Fever".[209] In 1899 while investigating atmospheric radio noise using his receivers in his Colorado Springs lab, inventor Nikola Tesla observed repetitive signals that he later surmised might have been radio communications coming from another planet, possibly Mars. In a 1901 interview Tesla said: It was some time afterward when the thought flashed upon my mind that the disturbances I had observed might be An 1893 soap ad playing on the popular idea that due to an intelligent control. Although I could not decipher Mars was populated. their meaning, it was impossible for me to think of them as having been entirely accidental. The feeling is constantly growing on me that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another.[210] Tesla's theories gained support from Lord Kelvin who, while visiting the United States in 1902, was reported to have said that he thought Tesla had picked up Martian signals being sent to the United States.[211] Kelvin "emphatically" denied this report shortly before departing America: "What I really said was that the inhabitants of Mars, if there are any, were doubtless able to see New York, particularly the glare of the electricity."[212] In a New York Times article in 1901, Edward Charles Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory, said that they had received a telegram from Lowell Observatory in Arizona that seemed to confirm that Mars was trying to communicate with the Earth.[213] Early in December 1900, we received from Lowell Observatory in Arizona a telegram that a shaft of light had been seen to project from Mars (the Lowell observatory makes a specialty of Mars) lasting seventy minutes. I wired these facts to Europe and sent out neostyle copies through this country. The observer there is a careful, reliable man and there is no reason to doubt that the light existed. It was given as from a well-known geographical point on Mars. That was all. Now the story has gone the world over. In Europe it is stated that I have been in communication with Mars, and all sorts of exaggerations have spring up. Whatever the light was, we have no means of knowing. Whether it had intelligence or not, no one can say. It is absolutely inexplicable.[213] Pickering later proposed creating a set of mirrors in Texas, intended to signal Martians.[214] In recent decades, the high-resolution mapping of the surface of Mars, culminating in Mars Global Surveyor, revealed no artifacts of habitation by 'intelligent' life, but pseudoscientific speculation about intelligent life on Mars continues from commentators such as Richard C. Hoagland. Reminiscent of the canali controversy, some speculations are based on small scale features perceived in the spacecraft images, such as 'pyramids' and the 'Face on Mars'. Planetary astronomer Carl Sagan wrote: Mars has become a kind of mythic arena onto which we have projected our Earthly hopes and fears.[200]



The depiction of Mars in fiction has been stimulated by its dramatic red color and by nineteenth century scientific speculations that its surface conditions not only might support life, but intelligent life.[215] Thus originated a large number of science fiction scenarios, among which is H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, published in 1898, in which Martians seek to escape their dying planet by invading Earth. A subsequent US radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds on October 30, 1938 by Orson Welles was presented as a live news broadcast, and became notorious for causing a public panic when many listeners mistook it for the truth.[216] Influential works included Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, in which human explorers accidentally destroy a Martian civilization, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series, C. S. Lewis' novel Out of the Silent Planet (1938),[217] and a number of Robert A. Heinlein stories before the mid-sixties.[218]

Martian tripod illustration from the 1906 French edition of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.

Author Jonathan Swift made reference to the moons of Mars, about 150 years before their actual discovery by Asaph Hall, detailing reasonably accurate descriptions of their orbits, in the 19th chapter of his novel Gulliver's Travels.[219] A comic figure of an intelligent Martian, Marvin the Martian, appeared on television in 1948 as a character in the Looney Tunes animated cartoons of Warner Brothers, and has continued as part of popular culture to the present.[220] After the Mariner and Viking spacecraft had returned pictures of Mars as it really is, an apparently lifeless and canal-less world, these ideas about Mars had to be abandoned and a vogue for accurate, realist depictions of human colonies on Mars developed, the best known of which may be Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. Pseudo-scientific speculations about the Face on Mars and other enigmatic landmarks spotted by space probes have meant that ancient civilizations continue to be a popular theme in science fiction, especially in film.[221] The theme of a Martian colony that fights for independence from Earth is a major plot element in the novels of Greg Bear as well as the movie Total Recall (based on a short story by Philip K. Dick) and the television series Babylon 5. Some video games also use this element, including Red Faction and the Zone of the Enders series. Mars (and its moons) were also the setting for the popular Doom video game franchise and the later Martian Gothic.

Surface details

Slope Streaks in Acheron Fossae Arsia mons hole




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(2001). "Decline and fall of the Martian empire". Nature 412 (6843): 209–213. doi:10.1038/35084148. PMID 11449281.


[205] Salisbury, F. B. (1962). "Martian Biology". Science 136 (3510): 17–26. Bibcode 1962Sci...136...17S. doi:10.1126/science.136.3510.17. JSTOR 1708777. PMID 17779780. [206] Ward, Peter Douglas; Brownlee, Donald (2000). Rare earth: why complex life is uncommon in the universe (2nd ed.). Springer. p. 253. ISBN 0-387-95289-6. [207] Bond, Peter (2007). Distant worlds: milestones in planetary exploration. Springer. p. 119. ISBN 0-387-40212-8. [208] "Percivel Lowell's Canals" (http:/ / prion. bchs. uh. edu/ Mars/ Percival_Lowell. htm). . Retrieved 2007-03-01. [209] Fergus, Charles (2004). "Mars Fever" (http:/ / www. rps. psu. edu/ 0305/ mars. html). Research/Penn State 24 (2). . Retrieved 2007-08-02. [210] Tesla, Nikola (February 19, 1901). "Talking with the Planets" (http:/ / earlyradiohistory. us/ 1901talk. htm). Collier's Weekly. . Retrieved 2007-05-04. [211] Cheney, Margaret (1981). Tesla, man out of time. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-13-906859-1. OCLC 7672251. [212] "Departure of Lord Kelvin". The New York Times: p. 29. May 11, 1902. [213] Pickering, Edward Charles (January 16, 1901). "The Light Flash From Mars" (http:/ / web. archive. org/ web/ 20070605105717/ http:/ / nbgoku23. googlepages. com/ marslight. pdf) (PDF). The New York Times. Archived from the original (http:/ / select. nytimes. com/ gst/ abstract. html?res=F10D15FE3F5E137A8EDDAF0994D9405B818CF1D3) on 2007-06-05. . Retrieved 2007-05-20. [214] Fradin, Dennis Brindell (1999). Is There Life on Mars?. McElderry Books. p. 62. ISBN 0-689-82048-8. [215] Lightman, Bernard V. (1997). Victorian Science in Context. University of Chicago Press. pp. 268–273. ISBN 0-226-48111-5. [216] Lubertozzi, Alex; Holmsten, Brian (2003). The war of the worlds: Mars' invasion of earth, inciting panic and inspiring terror from H.G. Wells to Orson Welles and beyond. Sourcebooks, Inc.. pp. 3–31. ISBN 1-57071-985-3. [217] Schwartz, Sanford (2009). C. S. Lewis on the Final Frontier: Science and the Supernatural in the Space Trilogy. Oxford University Press US. pp. 19–20. ISBN 0-19-537472-X. [218] Buker, Derek M. (2002). The science fiction and fantasy readers' advisory: the librarian's guide to cyborgs, aliens, and sorcerers. ALA readers' advisory series. ALA Editions. p. 26. ISBN 0-8389-0831-4. [219] Darling, David. "Swift, Jonathan and the moons of Mars" (http:/ / www. daviddarling. info/ encyclopedia/ S/ Swift. html). . Retrieved 2007-03-01. [220] Rabkin, Eric S. (2005). Mars: a tour of the human imagination. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 141–142. ISBN 0-275-98719-1. [221] Miles, Kathy; Peters II, Charles F.. "Unmasking the Face" (http:/ / starryskies. com/ Artshtml/ dln/ 5-98/ mars. html). StarrySkies.com. . Retrieved 2007-03-01.


References External links
• Mars (http://www.dmoz.org/Science/Astronomy/Solar_System/Planets/Mars//) at the Open Directory Project • Mars Exploration Program (http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/) • On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet 1958–1978 (http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4212/on-mars.html) from the NASA History Office. • Mars Unearthed (http://web.archive.org/web/20010416234927/http://www.marsunearthed.com/ )—Comparisons of terrains between Earth and Mars • Be on Mars (http://dualmoments.com/marsrovers/index.html)—Anaglyphs from the Mars Rovers (3D) • Mars articles in Planetary Science Research Discoveries (http://www.psrd.hawaii.edu/Archive/Archive-Mars. html) • Geody Mars (http://www.geody.com/?world=mars)—World's search engine that supports NASA World Wind, Celestia, and other applications • Mars Society (http://www.marssociety.org/)—The Mars Society, an international organization dedicated to the study, exploration, and settlement of Mars. • NASA/JPL OnMars WMS Server for Mars Data (http://onmars.jpl.nasa.gov/)—Work as Google Earth client overlays • New Papers about Martian Geomorphology (http://ice.tsu.ru/index.php?option=com_content& view=category&layout=blog&id=24&Itemid=92) Media

Mars • Computer Simulation of a flyby through Mariner Valley (http://www.maniacworld.com/mars_mariner_valley. htm) • Movie of Mars (http://sos.noaa.gov/videos/Mars.mov) at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration • Flight Into Mariner Valley (http://themis.asu.edu/valles_video/)—NASA/JPL/Arizona State University 3D flythrough of Valles Marineris • Mars (http://web.archive.org/web/20080105165647/http://www.astronomycast.com/astronomy/ episode-52-mars/) Astronomy Cast episode #52, includes full transcript • 15 Amazing Pictures of the Red Planet (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-bell/pictures-of-mars_b_791652. html#198680) – slideshow at The Huffington Post • Storm Front (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA15567) • Dunes (http://hirise-pds.lpl.arizona.edu/PDS/EXTRAS/RDR/ESP/ORB_016600_016699/ ESP_016682_2650/ESP_016682_2650_RGB.NOMAP.browse.jpg) source (http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/ ESP_016682_2650) • Mars (http://www.msss.com/mars_images/moc/2003/05/20/2003.05.20.syriastorm.jpg) source (http:// www.msss.com/mars_images/moc/2003/05/20/) Cartographic resources • Mars nomenclature (http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/Page/MARS/target) and Mars map with feature names (http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/Page/mars1to5mMOLA) from the USGS planetary nomenclature page (http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov) • PDS Map-a-planet (http://pdsmaps.wr.usgs.gov/PDS/public/explorer/html/marspick.htm) • Viking Photomap (http://planetologia.elte.hu/terkep/mars-viking-en.pdf) • MOLA (topographic) map (http://planetologia.elte.hu/terkep/mars-mola-en.pdf) • 3D maps of Mars in NASA World Wind (http://www.worldwindcentral.com/wiki/Mars) • Google Mars (http://www.google.com/mars/)—Interactive image of Mars • Ralph Aeschliman's Online Atlas of Mars (http://ralphaeschliman.com/id30.htm)





A composite Cassini image of Jupiter. The dark spot is the shadow of Europa.
Designations Pronunciation Adjective



Jovian Orbital characteristics Epoch J2000

Aphelion Perihelion Semi-major axis Eccentricity Orbital period

816520800 km (unknown operator: u'strong' AU) 740573600 km (unknown operator: u'strong' AU) 778547200 km (unknown operator: u'strong' AU) 0.048775
• • •

4,332.59 days 11.8618 yr [4] 10,475.8 Jupiter solar days

Synodic period Average orbital speed Mean anomaly Inclination

398.88 days 13.07 km/s 18.818°
• • •


1.305° to Ecliptic 6.09° to Sun's equator [6] 0.32° to Invariable plane

Longitude of ascending node Argument of perihelion Satellites

100.492° 275.066° 66 Physical characteristics

Mean radius Equatorial radius

69,911 ± 6 km
• •

[7][8] [7][8]

71,492 ± 4 km 11.209 Earths



Polar radius

• •

66,854 ± 10 km 10.517 Earths

Flattening Surface area

0.06487 ± 0.00015
• • • • • • •

6.1419×1010 km2 121.9 Earths 1.4313×1015 km3 1321.3 Earths 1.8986×1027 kg 317.8 Earths [10] 1/1047 Sun






Mean density Equatorial surface gravity

1.326 g/cm3 24.79 m/s2 2.528 g 59.5 km/s 9.925 h


Escape velocity Sidereal rotation period Equatorial rotation velocity Axial tilt North pole right ascension



(9 h 55 m 30 s)

12.6 km/s 45,300 km/h 3.13°

268.057° [7] 17 h 52 min 14 s 64.496°

North pole declination Albedo

0.343 (Bond) [5] 0.52 (geom.) min mean 165 K 112 K
[5] [5]

Surface temp.    1 bar level    0.1 bar


Apparent magnitude Angular diameter

-1.6 to -2.94

[5] [5]

29.8" — 50.1" Atmosphere

Surface pressure Scale height

20–200 kPa 27 km


(cloud layer)



Composition 89.8±2.0% hydrogen (H2) 10.2±2.0% helium ~0.3% ~0.026% ~0.003% 0.0006% 0.0004% Ices: ammonia water ammonium hydrosulfide(NH4SH) methane ammonia hydrogen deuteride (HD) ethane water

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System.[1] It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Together, these four planets are sometimes referred to as the Jovian or outer planets. The planet was known by astronomers of ancient times,[2] and was associated with the mythology and religious beliefs of many cultures. The Romans named the planet after the Roman god Jupiter.[3] When viewed from Earth, Jupiter can reach an apparent magnitude of −2.94, making it on average the third-brightest object in the night sky after the Moon and Venus. (Mars can briefly match Jupiter's brightness at certain points in its orbit.) Jupiter is primarily composed of hydrogen with a quarter of its mass being helium; it may also have a rocky core of heavier elements[4]. Because of its rapid rotation, Jupiter's shape is that of an oblate spheroid (it possesses a slight but noticeable bulge around the equator). The outer atmosphere is visibly segregated into several bands at different latitudes, resulting in turbulence and storms along their interacting boundaries. A prominent result is the Great Red Spot, a giant storm that is known to have existed since at least the 17th century when it was first seen by telescope. Surrounding the planet is a faint planetary ring system and a powerful magnetosphere. There are also at least 66 moons, including the four large moons called the Galilean moons that were first discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. Ganymede, the largest of these moons, has a diameter greater than that of the planet Mercury. Jupiter has been explored on several occasions by robotic spacecraft, most notably during the early Pioneer and Voyager flyby missions and later by the Galileo orbiter. The most recent probe to visit Jupiter was the Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft in late February 2007. The probe used the gravity from Jupiter to increase its speed. Future targets for exploration in the Jovian system include the possible ice-covered liquid ocean on the moon Europa.



Jupiter is composed primarily of gaseous and liquid matter. It is the largest of four gas giants as well as the largest planet in the Solar System with a diameter of 142,984 km at its equator. The density of Jupiter, 1.326 g/cm3, is the second highest of the gas giant planets. The density is lower than any of the four terrestrial planets.

Jupiter's upper atmosphere is composed of about 88–92% hydrogen and 8–12% helium by percent volume or fraction of gas molecules. Since a helium atom has about four times as much mass as a hydrogen atom, the composition changes when described as the proportion of mass contributed by different atoms. Thus the atmosphere is approximately 75% hydrogen and 24% helium by mass, with the remaining one percent of the mass consisting of other elements. The interior contains denser materials such that the distribution is roughly 71% hydrogen, 24% helium and 5% other elements by mass. The atmosphere contains trace amounts of methane, water vapor, ammonia, and silicon-based compounds. There are also traces of carbon, ethane, hydrogen sulfide, neon, oxygen, phosphine, and sulfur. The outermost layer of the atmosphere contains crystals of frozen ammonia.[5][6] Through infrared and ultraviolet measurements, trace amounts of benzene and other hydrocarbons have also been found.[7] The atmospheric proportions of hydrogen and helium are very close to the theoretical composition of the primordial solar nebula. Neon in the upper atmosphere only consists of 20 parts per million by mass, which is about a tenth as abundant as in the Sun.[8] Helium is also depleted, although only to about 80% of the Sun's helium composition. This depletion may be a result of precipitation of these elements into the interior of the planet.[9] Abundances of heavier inert gases in Jupiter's atmosphere are about two to three times that of the Sun. Based on spectroscopy, Saturn is thought to be similar in composition to Jupiter, but the other gas giants Uranus and Neptune have relatively much less hydrogen and helium.[10] Because of the lack of atmospheric entry probes, high quality abundance numbers of the heavier elements are lacking for the outer planets beyond Jupiter.

Jupiter's mass is 2.5 times that of all the other planets in our Solar System combined—this is so massive that its barycenter with the Sun lies above the Sun's surface at 1.068 solar radii from the Sun's center. Although this planet dwarfs the Earth with a diameter 11 times as great, it is considerably less dense. Jupiter's volume is that of about 1,321 Earths, yet the planet is only 318 times as massive.[5][11] Jupiter's radius is about 1/10 the radius of the Sun,[12] and its mass is 0.001 times the mass of the Sun, so the density of the two bodies is similar.[13] A "Jupiter mass" (MJ or MJup) is often used as a unit to describe masses of other objects, particularly extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs. So, for example, the extrasolar planet HD 209458 b has a mass of 0.69 MJ, while COROT-7b has a mass of 0.015 MJ.[14]

Theoretical models indicate that if Jupiter had much more mass than it does at present, the planet would shrink.[15] For small changes in mass, the radius would not change appreciably, and above about 500 M⊕ (1.6 Jupiter masses)[15] the interior would become so much more compressed under the increased gravitation force that the planet's volume would decrease despite the increasing amount of matter. As a result, Jupiter is thought to have about as large a diameter as a planet of its composition and evolutionary history can achieve. The process of further shrinkage with increasing mass would continue until appreciable stellar ignition is achieved as in high-mass brown dwarfs around 50 Jupiter masses.[16]

Jupiter's diameter is one order of magnitude smaller (×0.10045) than the Sun, and one order of magnitude larger (×10.9733) than the Earth. The Great Red Spot has roughly the same size as the circumference of the Earth.

Jupiter Although Jupiter would need to be about 75 times as massive to fuse hydrogen and become a star, the smallest red dwarf is only about 30 percent larger in radius than Jupiter.[17][18] Despite this, Jupiter still radiates more heat than it receives from the Sun; the amount of heat produced inside the planet is similar to the total solar radiation it receives.[19] This additional heat radiation is generated by the Kelvin–Helmholtz mechanism through adiabatic contraction. This process results in the planet shrinking by about 2 cm each year.[20] When it was first formed, Jupiter was much hotter and was about twice its current diameter.[21]


Internal structure
Jupiter is thought to consist of a dense core with a mixture of elements, a surrounding layer of liquid metallic hydrogen with some helium, and an outer layer predominantly of molecular hydrogen.[20] Beyond this basic outline, there is still considerable uncertainty. The core is often described as rocky, but its detailed composition is unknown, as are the properties of materials at the temperatures and pressures of those depths (see below). In 1997, the existence of the core was suggested by gravitational measurements,[20] indicating a mass of from 12 to 45 times the Earth's mass or roughly 3%–15% of the total mass of Jupiter.[19][22] The presence of a core during at least part of Jupiter's history is suggested by models of planetary formation involving initial This cut-away illustrates a model of the interior formation of a rocky or icy core that is massive enough to collect its of Jupiter, with a rocky core overlaid by a deep bulk of hydrogen and helium from the protosolar nebula. Assuming it layer of metallic hydrogen. did exist, it may have shrunk as convection currents of hot liquid metallic hydrogen mixed with the molten core and carried its contents to higher levels in the planetary interior. A core may now be entirely absent, as gravitational measurements are not yet precise enough to rule that possibility out entirely.[20][23] The uncertainty of the models is tied to the error margin in hitherto measured parameters: one of the rotational coefficients (J6) used to describe the planet's gravitational moment, Jupiter's equatorial radius, and its temperature at 1 bar pressure. The Juno mission, which launched in August 2011, is expected to narrow down the value of these parameters, and thereby make progress on the problem of the core.[24] The core region is surrounded by dense metallic hydrogen, which extends outward to about 78 percent of the radius of the planet.[19] Rain-like droplets of helium and neon precipitate downward through this layer, depleting the abundance of these elements in the upper atmosphere.[9][25] Above the layer of metallic hydrogen lies a transparent interior atmosphere of hydrogen. At this depth, the temperature is above the critical temperature, which for hydrogen is only 33 K[26] (see hydrogen). In this state, there are no distinct liquid and gas phases—hydrogen is said to be in a supercritical fluid state. It is convenient to treat hydrogen as gas in the upper layer extending downward from the cloud layer to a depth of about 1,000 km,[19] and as liquid in deeper layers. Physically, there is no clear boundary—gas smoothly becomes hotter and denser as one descends.[27][28] The temperature and pressure inside Jupiter increase steadily toward the core. At the phase transition region where hydrogen—heated beyond its critical point—becomes metallic, it is believed the temperature is 10,000 K and the pressure is 200 GPa. The temperature at the core boundary is estimated to be 36,000 K and the interior pressure is roughly 3,000–4,500 GPa.[19]



Jupiter has the largest planetary atmosphere in the Solar System, spanning over 5000 km in altitude.[29][30] As Jupiter has no surface, the base of its atmosphere is usually considered to be the point at which atmospheric pressure is equal to 10 bars, or ten times surface pressure on Earth.[29]

Cloud layers
Jupiter is perpetually covered with clouds composed of ammonia crystals and possibly ammonium hydrosulfide. The clouds are located in the tropopause and are arranged into bands of different latitudes, known as tropical regions. These are sub-divided into lighter-hued zones and darker belts. The interactions of these conflicting circulation patterns cause storms and turbulence. Wind speeds of 100 m/s (360 km/h) are common in zonal jets.[31] The zones have been observed to vary in width, color and intensity from year to year, but they have remained sufficiently stable for astronomers to give them identifying designations.[11]

This looping animation shows the movement of Jupiter's counter-rotating cloud bands. In this image, the planet's exterior is mapped onto a cylindrical projection. Animation at larger widths: 720 pixels, 1799 pixels.

The cloud layer is only about 50 km deep, and consists of at least two decks of clouds: a thick lower deck and a thin clearer region. There may also be a thin layer of water clouds underlying the ammonia layer, as evidenced by flashes of lightning detected in the atmosphere of Jupiter. This is caused by water's polarity, which makes it capable of creating the charge separation needed to produce lightning.[19] These electrical discharges can be up to a thousand times as powerful as lightning on the Earth.[32] The water clouds can form thunderstorms driven by the heat rising from the interior.[33] The orange and brown coloration in the clouds of Jupiter are caused by upwelling compounds that change color when they are exposed to ultraviolet light from the Sun. The exact makeup remains uncertain, but the substances are believed to be phosphorus, sulfur or possibly hydrocarbons.[19][34] These colorful compounds, known as chromophores, mix with the warmer, lower deck of clouds. The zones are formed when rising convection cells form crystallizing ammonia that masks out these lower clouds from view.[35] Jupiter's low axial tilt means that the poles constantly receive less solar radiation than at the planet's equatorial region. Convection within the interior of the planet transports more energy to the poles, balancing out the temperatures at the cloud layer.[11]



Great Red Spot and other vortices
The best known feature of Jupiter is the Great Red Spot, a persistent anticyclonic storm that is larger than Earth, located 22° south of the equator. It is known to have been in existence since at least 1831,[36] and possibly since 1665.[37][38] Mathematical models suggest that the storm is stable and may be a permanent feature of the planet.[39] The storm is large enough to be visible through Earth-based telescopes with an aperture of 12 cm or larger.[40] The oval object rotates counterclockwise, with a period of about six days.[41] The Great Red Spot's dimensions are 24–40,000 km × 12–14,000 km. It is large enough to contain two or three planets of Earth's diameter.[42] The maximum altitude of this storm is about 8 km above the surrounding cloudtops.[43] Storms such as this are common within the turbulent atmospheres of gas giants. Jupiter also has white ovals and brown ovals, which are lesser unnamed storms. White ovals tend to consist of relatively cool clouds within the upper atmosphere. Brown ovals are warmer and located within the "normal cloud layer". Such storms can last as little as a few hours or stretch on for centuries.

This view of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and its surroundings was obtained by Voyager 1 on February 25, 1979, when the spacecraft was 9.2 million km (5.7 million mi) from Jupiter. Cloud details as small as 160 km (100 mi) across can be seen here. The colorful, wavy cloud pattern to the left of the Red Spot is a region of extraordinarily complex and variable wave motion. To give a sense of Jupiter's scale, the white oval storm directly below the Great Red Spot is approximately the same diameter as Earth.

Even before Voyager proved that the feature was a storm, there was strong evidence that the spot could not be associated with any deeper feature on the planet's surface, as the Spot rotates differentially with respect to the rest of the atmosphere, sometimes faster and sometimes more slowly. During its recorded history it has traveled several times around the planet relative to any possible fixed rotational marker below it. In 2000, an atmospheric feature formed in the southern hemisphere that is similar in appearance to the Great Red Spot, but smaller. This was created when several smaller, white oval-shaped storms merged to form a single feature—these three smaller white ovals were first observed in 1938. The merged feature was named Oval BA, and has been nicknamed Red Spot Junior. It has since increased in intensity and changed color from white to red.[44][45][46]

Time-lapse sequence from the approach of Voyager 1 to Jupiter, showing the motion of atmospheric bands, and circulation of the Great Red Spot. Full size video here



Planetary rings
Jupiter has a faint planetary ring system composed of three main segments: an inner torus of particles known as the halo, a relatively bright main ring, and an outer gossamer ring.[47] These rings appear to be made of dust, rather than ice as with Saturn's rings.[19] The main ring is probably made of material ejected from the satellites Adrastea and Metis. Material that would normally fall back to the moon is pulled into Jupiter because of its strong gravitational influence. The orbit of the material veers towards Jupiter and new material is added by additional impacts.[48] In a similar way, the moons Thebe and Amalthea probably produce the two distinct components of the dusty gossamer ring.[48] There is also evidence of a rocky ring strung along Amalthea's orbit which may consist of collisional debris from that moon.[49]

The rings of Jupiter

Jupiter's broad magnetic field is 14 times as strong as the Earth's, ranging from 4.2 gauss (0.42 mT) at the equator to 10–14 gauss (1.0–1.4 mT) at the poles, making it the strongest in the Solar System (except for sunspots).[35] This field is believed to be generated by eddy currents—swirling movements of conducting materials—within the metallic hydrogen core. The volcanoes on the moon Io emit large amounts of sulfur dioxide forming a gas torus along the moon's orbit. The gas is ionized in the magnetosphere producing sulfur and oxygen ions. They, together with hydrogen ions originating from the atmosphere of Jupiter, form a plasma sheet in Jupiter's equatorial plane. The plasma in the sheet co-rotates with the planet causing deformation of the dipole magnetic field into that of magnetodisk. Electrons within the plasma sheet generate a strong radio signature that produces bursts in the range of 0.6–30 MHz.[50]

Aurora on Jupiter. Three bright dots are created by magnetic flux tubes that connect to the Jovian moons Io (on the left), Ganymede (on the bottom) and Europa (also on the bottom). In addition, the very bright almost circular region, called the main oval, and the fainter polar aurora can be seen.

At about 75 Jupiter radii from the planet, the interaction of the magnetosphere with the solar wind generates a bow shock. Surrounding Jupiter's magnetosphere is a magnetopause, located at the inner edge of a magnetosheath—a region between it and the bow shock. The solar wind interacts with these regions, elongating the magnetosphere on Jupiter's lee side and extending it outward until it nearly reaches the orbit of Saturn. The four largest moons of Jupiter all orbit within the magnetosphere, which protects them from the solar wind.[19] The magnetosphere of Jupiter is responsible for intense episodes of radio emission from the planet's polar regions. Volcanic activity on the Jovian moon Io (see below) injects gas into Jupiter's magnetosphere, producing a torus of particles about the planet. As Io moves through this torus, the interaction generates Alfvén waves that carry ionized matter into the polar regions of Jupiter. As a result, radio waves are generated through a cyclotron maser mechanism, and the energy is transmitted out along a cone-shaped surface. When the Earth intersects this cone, the radio emissions from Jupiter can exceed the solar radio output.[51]



Orbit and rotation
Jupiter is the only planet that has a center of mass with the Sun that lies outside the volume of the Sun, though by only 7% of the Sun's radius.[52] The average distance between Jupiter and the Sun is 778 million km (about 5.2 times the average distance from the Earth to the Sun, or 5.2 AU) and it completes an orbit every 11.86 years. This is two-fifths the orbital period of Saturn, forming a 5:2 orbital resonance between the two largest planets in the Solar System.[53] The elliptical orbit of Jupiter is inclined 1.31° compared to the Earth. Because of an eccentricity of 0.048, the distance from Jupiter and the Sun varies by 75 million km between perihelion and aphelion, or the nearest and most distant points of the planet along the orbital path respectively. The axial tilt of Jupiter is relatively small: only 3.13°. As a result this planet does not experience significant seasonal changes, in contrast to Earth and Mars for example.[54]
Jupiter (red) completes one orbit of the Sun (center) for every 11.86 orbits of the Earth (blue)

Jupiter's rotation is the fastest of all the Solar System's planets, completing a rotation on its axis in slightly less than ten hours; this creates an equatorial bulge easily seen through an Earth-based amateur telescope. This rotation requires a centripetal acceleration at the equator of about 1.67 m/s2, compared to the equatorial surface gravity of 24.79 m/s2; thus the net acceleration felt at the equatorial surface is only about 23.12 m/s2. The planet is shaped as an oblate spheroid, meaning that the diameter across its equator is longer than the diameter measured between its poles. On Jupiter, the equatorial diameter is 9275 km longer than the diameter measured through the poles.[28] Because Jupiter is not a solid body, its upper atmosphere undergoes differential rotation. The rotation of Jupiter's polar atmosphere is about 5 minutes longer than that of the equatorial atmosphere; three systems are used as frames of reference, particularly when graphing the motion of atmospheric features. System I applies from the latitudes 10° N to 10° S; its period is the planet's shortest, at 9h 50m 30.0s. System II applies at all latitudes north and south of these; its period is 9h 55m 40.6s. System III was first defined by radio astronomers, and corresponds to the rotation of the planet's magnetosphere; its period is Jupiter's official rotation.[55]

Jupiter is usually the fourth brightest object in the sky (after the Sun, the Moon and Venus);[35] at times Mars appears brighter than Jupiter. Depending on Jupiter's position with respect to the Earth, it can vary in visual magnitude from as bright as −2.9 at opposition down to −1.6 during conjunction with the Sun. The angular diameter of Jupiter likewise varies from 50.1 to 29.8 arc seconds.[5] Favorable oppositions occur when Jupiter is passing through perihelion, an event that occurs once per orbit. As Jupiter approached perihelion in March 2011, there was a favorable opposition in September 2010.[56]

Earth overtakes Jupiter every 398.9 days as it orbits the Sun, a duration called the synodic period. As it does so, Jupiter appears to undergo retrograde motion with respect to the background stars. That is, for a period Jupiter seems to move backward in the night sky, performing a looping motion. Jupiter's 12-year orbital period corresponds to the dozen astrological signs of the zodiac, and may have been the historical origin of the signs.[11] That is, each time Jupiter reaches opposition it has advanced eastward by about 30°,

The retrograde motion of an outer planet is caused by its relative location with respect to the Earth.

Jupiter the width of a zodiac sign. Because the orbit of Jupiter is outside the Earth's, the phase angle of Jupiter as viewed from the Earth never exceeds 11.5°. That is, the planet always appears nearly fully illuminated when viewed through Earth-based telescopes. It was only during spacecraft missions to Jupiter that crescent views of the planet were obtained.[57]


Research and exploration
Pre-telescopic research
The observation of Jupiter dates back to the Babylonian astronomers of the 7th or 8th century BC.[58] The Chinese historian of astronomy, Xi Zezong, has claimed that Gan De, a Chinese astronomer, made the discovery of one of Jupiter's moons in 362 BC with the unaided eye. If accurate, this would predate Galileo's discovery by nearly two millennia.[59][60] In his 2nd century work the Almagest, the Hellenistic astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus constructed a geocentric planetary model based on deferents and epicycles to explain Jupiter's motion relative to the Earth, giving its orbital period around the Earth as 4332.38 days, or 11.86 years.[61] In 499, Aryabhata, a mathematician-astronomer from the classical age of Indian mathematics and astronomy, also used a geocentric model to estimate Jupiter's period as 4332.2722 days, or 11.86 years.[62]

Model in the Almagest of the longitudinal motion of Jupiter (☉) relative to the Earth (⊕).

Ground-based telescope research
In 1610, Galileo Galilei discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter—Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto (now known as the Galilean moons)—using a telescope; thought to be the first telescopic observation of moons other than Earth's. Galileo's was also the first discovery of a celestial motion not apparently centered on the Earth. It was a major point in favor of Copernicus' heliocentric theory of the motions of the planets; Galileo's outspoken support of the Copernican theory placed him under the threat of the Inquisition.[63] During the 1660s, Cassini used a new telescope to discover spots and colorful bands on Jupiter and observed that the planet appeared oblate; that is, flattened at the poles. He was also able to estimate the rotation period of the planet.[6] In 1690 Cassini noticed that the atmosphere undergoes differential rotation.[19] The Great Red Spot, a prominent oval-shaped feature in the southern hemisphere of Jupiter, may have been observed as early as 1664 by Robert Hooke and in 1665 by Giovanni Cassini, although this is disputed. The pharmacist Heinrich Schwabe produced the earliest known drawing to show details of the Great Red Spot in 1831.[64] The Red Spot was reportedly lost from sight on several occasions between 1665 and 1708 before becoming quite conspicuous in 1878. It was recorded as fading again in 1883 and at the start of the 20th century.[65] Both Giovanni Borelli and Cassini made careful tables of the motions of the Jovian moons, allowing predictions of the times when the moons would pass before or behind the planet. By the 1670s, it was observed
False-color detail of Jupiter's atmosphere, imaged by Voyager 1, showing the Great Red Spot and a passing white oval.

Jupiter that when Jupiter was on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth, these events would occur about 17 minutes later than expected. Ole Rømer deduced that sight is not instantaneous (a conclusion that Cassini had earlier rejected[6]), and this timing discrepancy was used to estimate the speed of light.[66] In 1892, E. E. Barnard observed a fifth satellite of Jupiter with the 36-inch (unknown operator: u'strong' mm) refractor at Lick Observatory in California. The discovery of this relatively small object, a testament to his keen eyesight, quickly made him famous. The moon was later named Amalthea.[67] It was the last planetary moon to be discovered directly by visual observation.[68] An additional eight satellites were subsequently discovered before the flyby of the Voyager 1 probe in 1979. In 1932, Rupert Wildt identified absorption bands of ammonia and methane in the spectra of Jupiter.[69] Three long-lived anticyclonic features termed white ovals were observed in 1938. For several decades they remained as separate features in the atmosphere, sometimes approaching each other but never merging. Finally, two of the ovals merged in 1998, then absorbed the third in 2000, becoming Oval BA.[70]


Radiotelescope research
In 1955, Bernard Burke and Kenneth Franklin detected bursts of radio signals coming from Jupiter at 22.2 MHz.[19] The period of these bursts Infrared image of Jupiter taken by the ESO's Very matched the rotation of the planet, and they were also able to use this Large Telescope. information to refine the rotation rate. Radio bursts from Jupiter were found to come in two forms: long bursts (or L-bursts) lasting up to several seconds, and short bursts (or S-bursts) that had a duration of less than a hundredth of a second.[71] Scientists discovered that there were three forms of radio signals transmitted from Jupiter. • Decametric radio bursts (with a wavelength of tens of meters) vary with the rotation of Jupiter, and are influenced by interaction of Io with Jupiter's magnetic field.[72] • Decimetric radio emission (with wavelengths measured in centimeters) was first observed by Frank Drake and Hein Hvatum in 1959.[19] The origin of this signal was from a torus-shaped belt around Jupiter's equator. This signal is caused by cyclotron radiation from electrons that are accelerated in Jupiter's magnetic field.[73] • Thermal radiation is produced by heat in the atmosphere of Jupiter.[19]

Exploration with space probes
Since 1973 a number of automated spacecraft have visited Jupiter, most notably the Pioneer 10 space probe, the first spacecraft to get close enough to Jupiter to send back revelations about the properties and phenomena of the Solar System's largest planet.[74][75] Flights to other planets within the Solar System are accomplished at a cost in energy, which is described by the net change in velocity of the spacecraft, or delta-v. Entering a Hohmann transfer orbit from Earth to Jupiter from low Earth orbit requires a delta-v of 6.3 km/s[76] which is comparable to the 9.7 km/s delta-v needed to reach low Earth orbit.[77] Fortunately, gravity assists through planetary flybys can be used to reduce the energy required to reach Jupiter, albeit at the cost of a significantly longer flight duration.[78]

Jupiter Flyby missions


Flyby missions
Spacecraft Closest approach December 3, 1973 December 4, 1974 March 5, 1979 July 9, 1979 February 8, 1992 February 4, 2004 Cassini [79] Distance

Pioneer 10 Pioneer 11 Voyager 1 Voyager 2 Ulysses

130,000 km 34,000 km 349,000 km 570,000 km 408,894 km

[79] 120,000,000 km 10,000,000 km 2,304,535 km

December 30, 2000

New Horizons February 28, 2007

Beginning in 1973, several spacecraft have performed planetary flyby maneuvers that brought them within observation range of Jupiter. The Pioneer missions obtained the first close-up images of Jupiter's atmosphere and several of its moons. They discovered that the radiation fields near the planet were much stronger than expected, but both spacecraft managed to survive in that environment. The trajectories of these spacecraft were used to refine the mass estimates of the Jovian system. Occultations of the radio signals by the planet resulted in better measurements of Jupiter's diameter and the amount of polar flattening.[11][80] Six years later, the Voyager missions vastly improved the understanding of the Galilean moons and discovered Jupiter's rings. They also confirmed that the Great Red Spot was anticyclonic. Voyager 1 took this photo of the planet Jupiter on Comparison of images showed that the Red Spot had changed hue January 24, 1979, while still more than 25 million mi (40 million km) away. since the Pioneer missions, turning from orange to dark brown. A torus of ionized atoms was discovered along Io's orbital path, and volcanoes were found on the moon's surface, some in the process of erupting. As the spacecraft passed behind the planet, it observed flashes of lightning in the night side atmosphere.[5][11] The next mission to encounter Jupiter, the Ulysses solar probe, performed a flyby maneuver to attain a polar orbit around the Sun. During this pass the spacecraft conducted studies on Jupiter's magnetosphere. Since Ulysses has no cameras, no images were taken. A second flyby six years later was at a much greater distance.[79] In 2000, the Cassini probe, en route to Saturn, flew by Jupiter and provided some of the highest-resolution images ever made of the planet. On December 19, 2000, the spacecraft captured an image of the moon Himalia, but the resolution was too low to show surface details.[81] The New Horizons probe, en route to Pluto, flew by Jupiter for gravity assist. Its closest approach was on February 28, 2007.[82] The probe's cameras measured plasma output from volcanoes on Io and studied all four Galilean moons in detail, as well as making long-distance observations of the outer moons Himalia and Elara.[83] Imaging of the Jovian system began September 4, 2006.[84][85]

Jupiter Galileo mission So far the only spacecraft to orbit Jupiter is the Galileo orbiter, which went into orbit around Jupiter on December 7, 1995. It orbited the planet for over seven years, conducting multiple flybys of all the Galilean moons and Amalthea. The spacecraft also witnessed the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 as it approached Jupiter in 1994, giving a unique vantage point for the event. While the information gained about the Jovian system from Galileo was extensive, its originally designed capacity was limited by the failed deployment of its high-gain radio transmitting antenna.[86] An atmospheric probe was released from the spacecraft in July 1995, entering the planet's atmosphere on December 7. It parachuted through 150 km of the atmosphere, collected data for 57.6 minutes, and was crushed by the pressure to which it was subjected by that time (about 22 times Earth normal, at a temperature of 153 °C).[87] It would have melted thereafter, and possibly vaporized. The Galileo orbiter itself experienced a more rapid version of the same fate when it was Jupiter as seen by the space probe Cassini. deliberately steered into the planet on September 21, 2003, at a speed of over 50 km/s, to avoid any possibility of it crashing into and possibly contaminating Europa—a moon which has been hypothesized to have the possibility of harboring life.[86] Future probes NASA currently has a mission underway to study Jupiter in detail from a polar orbit. Named Juno, the spacecraft launched in August 2011, and will arrive in late 2016.[88] The next planned mission to the Jovian system will be the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE), due to launch in 2022.[89] Canceled missions Because of the possibility of subsurface liquid oceans on Jupiter's moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, there has been great interest in studying the icy moons in detail. Funding difficulties have delayed progress. NASA's JIMO (Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter) was cancelled in 2005.[90] A subsequent proposal for a joint NASA/ESA mission, called EJSM/Laplace, was developed with a provisional launch date around 2020. EJSM/Laplace would have consisted of the NASA-led Jupiter Europa Orbiter, and the ESA-led Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter.[91] However by April 2011, ESA had formally ended the partnership citing budget issues at NASA and the consequences on the mission timetable. Instead ESA planned to go ahead with a European-only mission to compete in its L1 Cosmic Vision selection.[92]




Jupiter has 66 natural satellites. Of these, 50 are less than 10 kilometres in diameter and have only been discovered since 1975. The four largest moons, known as the "Galilean moons", are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Jupiter with the Galilean moons

Galilean moons
The orbits of Io, Europa, and Ganymede, some of the largest satellites in the Solar System, form a pattern known as a Laplace resonance; for every four orbits that Io makes around Jupiter, Europa makes exactly two orbits and Ganymede makes The Galilean moons. From left to right, in order of increasing distance from Jupiter: Io, exactly one. This resonance causes the Europa, Ganymede, Callisto. gravitational effects of the three large moons to distort their orbits into elliptical shapes, since each moon receives an extra tug from its neighbors at the same point in every orbit it makes. The tidal force from Jupiter, on the other hand, works to circularize their orbits.[93] The eccentricity of their orbits causes regular flexing of the three moons' shapes, with Jupiter's gravity stretching them out as they approach it and allowing them to spring back to more spherical shapes as they swing away. This tidal flexing heats the moons' interiors by friction. This is seen most dramatically in the extraordinary volcanic activity of innermost Io (which is subject to the strongest tidal forces), and to a lesser degree in the geological youth of Europa's surface (indicating recent resurfacing of the moon's exterior).



The Galilean moons, compared to Earth's Moon
Name IPA Diameter km Io Europa ˈaɪ.oʊ % Mass kg 8.9×1022 4.8×1022 % 120 65 Orbital radius Orbital period km 421,700 671,034 % 110 175 days 1.77 3.55 7.15 % 7 13 26 61

3643 105 90

jʊˈroʊpə 3122

Ganymede ˈɡænimiːd 5262 150 14.8×1022 200 1,070,412 280 Callisto

kəˈlɪstoʊ 4821 140 10.8×1022 150 1,882,709 490 16.69

Classification of moons
Before the discoveries of the Voyager missions, Jupiter's moons were arranged neatly into four groups of four, based on commonality of their orbital elements. Since then, the large number of new small outer moons has complicated this picture. There are now thought to be six main groups, although some are more distinct than others. A basic sub-division is a grouping of the eight inner regular moons, which have nearly circular orbits near the plane of Jupiter's equator and are believed to have formed with Jupiter. The remainder of the moons consist of an unknown number of small irregular moons with elliptical and inclined orbits, which are believed to be captured asteroids or fragments of captured asteroids. Irregular moons that belong to a group share similar orbital elements and thus may have a common origin, perhaps as a larger moon or captured body that broke up.[94][95]
Regular moons Inner group The inner group of four small moons all have diameters of less than 200 km, orbit at radii less than 200,000 km, and have orbital inclinations of less than half a degree. [96] These four moons, discovered by Galileo Galilei and by Simon Marius in parallel, orbit between 400,000 and 2,000,000 km, and include some of the largest moons in the Solar System. Irregular moons Themisto Himalia group Carpo Ananke group This is a single moon belonging to a group of its own, orbiting halfway between the Galilean moons and the Himalia group. A tightly clustered group of moons with orbits around 11,000,000–12,000,000 km from Jupiter. Another isolated case; at the inner edge of the Ananke group, it orbits Jupiter in prograde direction. This retrograde orbit group has rather indistinct borders, averaging 21,276,000 km from Jupiter with an average inclination of 149 degrees. A fairly distinct retrograde group that averages 23,404,000 km from Jupiter with an average inclination of 165 degrees. A dispersed and only vaguely distinct retrograde group that covers all the outermost moons.

Jupiter's moon Europa.

Galilean moons

Carme group Pasiphaë group



Interaction with the Solar System
Along with the Sun, the gravitational influence of Jupiter has helped shape the Solar System. The orbits of most of the system's planets lie closer to Jupiter's orbital plane than the Sun's equatorial plane (Mercury is the only planet that is closer to the Sun's equator in orbital tilt), the Kirkwood gaps in the asteroid belt are mostly caused by Jupiter, and the planet may have been responsible for the Late Heavy Bombardment of the inner Solar System's history.[97] Along with its moons, Jupiter's gravitational field controls numerous asteroids that have settled into the regions of the Lagrangian points preceding and following Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. These are known as the Trojan asteroids, and are divided into Greek and Trojan "camps" to commemorate the Iliad. The first of these, 588 Achilles, was discovered by Max Wolf in 1906; since then more than two thousand have been discovered.[98] The largest is 624 Hektor. Most short-period comets belong to the Jupiter family—defined as comets with semi-major axes smaller than Jupiter's. Jupiter family comets are believed to form in the Kuiper belt outside the orbit of Neptune. During close encounters with Jupiter their orbits are perturbed into a smaller period and then circularized by regular gravitational interaction with the Sun and Jupiter.[99]

This diagram shows the Trojan asteroids in Jupiter's orbit, as well as the main asteroid belt.

Jupiter has been called the Solar System's vacuum cleaner,[101] because of its immense gravity well and location near the inner Solar System. It receives the most frequent comet impacts of the Solar System's planets.[102] It was thought that the planet served to partially shield the inner system from cometary bombardment. Recent computer simulations suggest that Jupiter does not cause a net decrease in the number of comets that pass through the inner Solar System, as its gravity perturbs their orbits inward in roughly the same numbers that it accretes or ejects them.[103] This topic remains controversial among astronomers, as some believe it draws comets towards Earth from the Kuiper belt while others believe that Jupiter protects Earth from the alleged Oort cloud.[104]

Hubble image taken on July 23 showing a blemish of about 5,000 miles long left by the [100] 2009 Jupiter impact.

A 1997 survey of historical astronomical drawings suggested that the astronomer Cassini may have recorded an impact scar in 1690. The survey determined eight other candidate observations had low or no possibilities of an impact.[105] During the period July 16, 1994, to July 22, 1994, over 20 fragments from the comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 (SL9, formally designated D/1993 F2) collided with Jupiter's southern hemisphere, providing the first direct observation of a collision between two Solar System objects. This impact provided useful data on the composition of Jupiter's atmosphere.[106][107] On July 19, 2009, an impact site was discovered at approximately 216 degrees longitude in System 2.[108][109] This impact left behind a black spot in Jupiter's atmosphere, similar in size to Oval BA. Infrared observation showed a bright spot where the impact took place, meaning the impact warmed up the lower atmosphere in the area near Jupiter's south pole.[110]

Jupiter Another impact event, smaller than the previous observed impacts, was detected on June 3, 2010, by Anthony Wesley, an amateur astronomer in Australia, and was later discovered to have been captured on video by another amateur astronomer in the Philippines.[111]


Possibility of life
In 1953, the Miller–Urey experiment demonstrated that a combination of lightning and the chemical compounds that existed in the atmosphere of a primordial Earth could form organic compounds (including amino acids) that could serve as the building blocks of life. The simulated atmosphere included water, methane, ammonia and molecular hydrogen; all molecules still found in the atmosphere of Jupiter. The atmosphere of Jupiter has a strong vertical air circulation, which would carry these compounds down into the lower regions. The higher temperatures within the interior of the atmosphere breaks down these chemicals, which would hinder the formation of Earth-like life.[112] It is considered highly unlikely that there is any Earth-like life on Jupiter, as there is only a small amount of water in the atmosphere and any possible solid surface deep within Jupiter would be under extraordinary pressures. In 1976, before the Voyager missions, it was hypothesized that ammonia or water-based life could evolve in Jupiter's upper atmosphere. This hypothesis is based on the ecology of terrestrial seas which have simple photosynthetic plankton at the top level, fish at lower levels feeding on these creatures, and marine predators which hunt the fish.[113][114] The possible presence of underground oceans on some of Jupiter's moons has led to speculation that the presence of life is more likely there.

The planet Jupiter has been known since ancient times. It is visible to the naked eye in the night sky and can occasionally be seen in the daytime when the sun is low.[115] To the Babylonians, this object represented their god Marduk. They used the roughly 12-year orbit of this planet along the ecliptic to define the constellations of their zodiac.[11][116] The Romans named it after Jupiter (Latin: Iuppiter, Iūpiter) (also called Jove), the principal god of Roman mythology, whose name Jupiter, woodcut from a 1550 edition of Guido comes from the Proto-Indo-European vocative compound *Dyēu-pəter Bonatti's Liber Astronomiae. (nominative: *Dyēus-pətēr, meaning "O Father Sky-God", or "O Father Day-God").[117] In turn, Jupiter was the counterpart to the mythical Greek Zeus (Ζεύς), also referred to as Dias (Δίας), the planetary name of which is retained in modern Greek.[118] The astronomical symbol for the planet, , is a stylized representation of the god's lightning bolt. The original Greek deity Zeus supplies the root zeno-, used to form some Jupiter-related words, such as zenographic.[119] Jovian is the adjectival form of Jupiter. The older adjectival form jovial, employed by astrologers in the Middle Ages, has come to mean "happy" or "merry," moods ascribed to Jupiter's astrological influence.[120] The Chinese, Korean and Japanese referred to the planet as the wood star, Chinese: 木 星; pinyin: mùxīng, based on the Chinese Five Elements.[121] Chinese Taoism personified it as the Fu star. The Greeks called it Φαέθων, Phaethon, "blazing." In Vedic Astrology, Hindu astrologers named the planet after Brihaspati, the religious teacher of the gods, and often called it "Guru", which literally means the "Heavy One."[122] In the English language, Thursday is derived from "Thor's day", with Thor associated with the planet Jupiter in Germanic mythology.[123] In the Central Asian-Turkic myths, Jupiter called as a "Erendiz/Erentüz", which means "eren(?)+yultuz(star)". There are many theories about meaning of "eren". Also, these peoples calculated the orbit of Jupiter as 11 years and 300

Jupiter days. They believed that some social and natural events connected to Erentüz's movements on the sky.[124]


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Further reading
• Bagenal, F.; Dowling, T. E.; McKinnon, W. B., eds. (2004). Jupiter: The planet, satellites, and magnetosphere. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81808-7. • Beebe, Reta (1997). Jupiter: The Giant Planet (Second ed.). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. ISBN 1-56098-731-6.

External links
• Hans Lohninger et al. (November 2, 2005). "Jupiter, As Seen By Voyager 1" (http://www.vias.org/spacetrip/ jupiter_1.html). A Trip into Space. Virtual Institute of Applied Science. Retrieved 2007-03-09. • Dunn, Tony (2006). "The Jovian System" (http://orbitsimulator.com/gravity/articles/joviansystem.html). Gravity Simulator. Retrieved 2007-03-09.—A simulation of the 62 Jovian moons. • Seronik, G.; Ashford, A. R. "Chasing the Moons of Jupiter" (http://skytonight.com/observing/objects/planets/ 3307071.html?page=1&c=y). Sky & Telescope. Retrieved 2007-03-09. • Anonymous (May 2, 2007). "In Pictures: New views of Jupiter" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/ 6614557.stm). BBC News. Retrieved 2007-05-02. • Cain, Fraser. "Jupiter" (http://www.astronomycast.com/astronomy/episode-56-jupiter/). Universe Today. Retrieved 2008-04-01. • "Fantastic Flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft (May 1, 2007.)" (http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2007/ 01may_fantasticflyby.htm). NASA. Retrieved 2008-05-21. • "Moons of Jupiter articles in Planetary Science Research Discoveries" (http://www.psrd.hawaii.edu/Archive/ Archive-Jupiter.html). Planetary Science Research Discoveries. University of Hawaii, NASA. • June 2010 impact video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Us6EXc5Hyng)




Saturn in natural color, photographed by Cassini
Designations Pronunciation Adjective



Saturnian, Cronian Orbital characteristics Epoch J2000.0

Aphelion Perihelion Semi-major axis Eccentricity Orbital period

• • • • • •

1,513,325,783 km 10.115 958 04 AU 1,353,572,956 km 9.048 076 35 AU 1,433,449,370 km 9.582 017 20 AU

0.055 723 219
• • •

10,759.22 days 29.4571 yr [4] 24,491.07 Saturn solar days

Synodic period Average orbital speed Mean anomaly Inclination

378.09 days 9.69 km/s


320.346 750°
• • •

2.485 240° to Ecliptic 5.51° to Sun's equator [6] 0.93° to invariable plane

Longitude of ascending node Argument of perihelion Satellites

113.642 811° 336.013 862° ~ 200 observed (62 with secure orbits including 53 that are named)



Physical characteristics Equatorial radius
• • • •

60,268 ± 4 km 9.4492 Earths


Polar radius

54,364 ± 10 km 8.5521 Earths


Flattening Surface area

0.097 96 ± 0.000 18
• • • • • •

4.27×1010 km² 83.703 Earths



8.2713×1014 km3 763.59 Earths 5.6846×1026 kg 95.152 Earths




Mean density

0.687 g/cm3 (less than water)
• •

Equatorial surface gravity

10.44 m/s² 1.065 g


Escape velocity Sidereal rotation period Equatorial rotation velocity

35.5 km/s

[5][8] [10]

10.57 hours (10 hr 34 min)
• •

9.87 km/s 35,500 km/h


Axial tilt North pole right ascension

• •

2h 42m 21s [7] 40.589°

North pole declination Albedo

• •

0.342 (Bond) [5] 0.47 (geometric) min mean 134 K 84 K

Surface temp.    1 bar level    0.1 bar



Apparent magnitude Angular diameter

+1.47 to −0.24


14.5"–20.1" (excludes rings) Atmosphere

Scale height

59.5 km



Composition ~96% ~3% ~0.4% ~0.01% ~0.01% hydrogen (H2) helium methane ammonia hydrogen deuteride (HD)

0.000 7% ethane Ices: ammonia water ammonium hydrosulfide(NH4SH)

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Named after the Roman god Saturn, its astronomical symbol (♄) represents the god's sickle. Saturn is a gas giant with an average radius about nine times that of Earth.[1][2] While only one-eighth the average density of Earth, with its larger volume Saturn is just over 95 times as massive as Earth.[3][4][5] Saturn's interior is probably composed of a core of iron, nickel and rock (silicon and oxygen compounds), surrounded by a deep layer of metallic hydrogen, an intermediate layer of liquid hydrogen and liquid helium and an outer gaseous layer.[6] Electrical current within the metallic hydrogen layer is thought to give rise to Saturn's planetary magnetic field, which is slightly weaker than Earth's and around one-twentieth the strength of Jupiter's.[7] The outer atmosphere is generally bland and lacking in contrast, although long-lived features can appear. Wind speeds on Saturn can reach 1800 km/h (unknown operator: u'strong' mph), faster than on Jupiter, but not as fast as those on Neptune.[8] Saturn has a ring system that consists of nine continuous main rings and three discontinuous arcs, composed mostly of ice particles with a smaller amount of rocky debris and dust. Sixty-two[9] known moons orbit the planet; fifty-three are officially named. This does not include the hundreds of "moonlets" within the rings. Titan, Saturn's largest and the Solar System's second largest moon, is larger than the planet Mercury and is the only moon in the Solar System to retain a substantial atmosphere.[10]

Physical characteristics
Saturn is classified as a gas giant planet because the exterior is predominantly composed of gas and it lacks a definite surface, although it may have a solid core.[11] The rotation of the planet causes it to take the shape of an oblate spheroid; that is, it is flattened at the poles and bulges at the equator. Its equatorial and polar radii differ by almost 10%—60,268 km versus 54,364 km, respectively.[5] Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, the other gas giants in the Solar System, are also oblate, but to a lesser extent. Saturn is the only planet of the Solar System that is less dense than water; about 30% less.[12] Although Saturn's core is considerably denser than water, the average specific density of the planet is 0.69 g/cm3 due to the gaseous atmosphere. Jupiter has 318 times the Earth's mass[13] while Saturn is 95 times the

Montage roughly comparing the sizes of Saturn and Earth.

Saturn mass of the Earth,[5] yet Jupiter is only about 20% larger than Saturn.[14] Together, Jupiter and Saturn hold 92% of the total planetary mass in the Solar System.[15]


Internal structure
Saturn is termed a gas giant, but it is not entirely gaseous. The planet primarily consists of hydrogen, which becomes a non-ideal liquid when the density is above 0.01 g/cm3. This density is reached at a radius containing 99.9% of Saturn's mass. The temperature, pressure and density inside the planet all rise steadily toward the core, which, in the deeper layers of the planet, cause hydrogen to transition into a metal.[15] Standard planetary models suggest that the interior of Saturn is similar to that of Jupiter, having a small rocky core surrounded by hydrogen and helium with trace amounts of various volatiles.[16] This core is similar in composition to the Earth, but more dense. Examination of the gravitational moment of the planet, in combination with physical models of the interior, allowed French astronomers Didier Saumon and Tristan Guillot to place constraints on the mass of the planet's core. In 2004, they estimated that the core must be 9–22 times the mass of the Earth,[17][18] which corresponds to a diameter of about 25,000 km.[19] This is surrounded by a thicker liquid metallic hydrogen layer, followed by a liquid layer of helium-saturated molecular hydrogen that gradually transitions into gas with increasing altitude. The outermost layer spans 1000 km and consists of a gaseous atmosphere.[20][21][22] Saturn has a very hot interior, reaching 11,700 °C at the core, and the planet radiates 2.5 times more energy into space than it receives from the Sun. Most of this extra energy is generated by the Kelvin–Helmholtz mechanism of slow gravitational compression, but this alone may not be sufficient to explain Saturn's heat production. An additional mechanism may be at play whereby Saturn generates some of its heat through the "raining out" of droplets of helium deep in its interior. As the droplets descend through the lower density hydrogen, the process releases heat by friction and leaves the outer layers of the planet depleted of helium.[23][24] These descending droplets may have accumulated into a helium shell surrounding the core.[16]

The outer atmosphere of Saturn contains 96.3% molecular hydrogen and 3.25% helium.[25] The proportion of helium is significantly deficient compared to the abundance of this element in the Sun.[16] The quantity of elements heavier than helium are not known precisely, but the proportions are assumed to match the primordial abundances from the formation of the Solar System. The total mass of these heavier elements is estimated to be 19–31 times the mass of the Earth, with a significant fraction located in Saturn's core region.[26] Trace amounts of ammonia, acetylene, ethane, propane, phosphine and methane have been detected in Saturn's atmosphere.[27][28][29] The upper clouds are composed of ammonia crystals, while the lower level clouds appear to consist of either ammonium hydrosulfide (NH4SH) or water.[30] Ultraviolet radiation from the Sun causes methane photolysis in the upper atmosphere, leading to a series of hydrocarbon chemical reactions with the resulting products being carried downward by eddies and diffusion. This photochemical cycle is modulated by Saturn's annual seasonal cycle.[29]



Cloud layers
Saturn's atmosphere exhibits a banded pattern similar to Jupiter's, but Saturn's bands are much fainter and are much wider near the equator. The nomenclature used to describe these bands is the same as on Jupiter. Saturn's finer cloud patterns were not observed until the flybys of the Voyager spacecraft during the 1980s. Since then, Earth-based telescopy has improved to the point where regular observations can be made.[31] The composition of the clouds varies with depth and increasing pressure. In the upper cloud layers, with the temperature in the range 100–160 K and pressures extending between 0.5–2 bar, the clouds consist of ammonia ice. Water ice clouds begin at a level where the A global storm girdles the planet in 2011. The pressure is about 2.5 bar and extend down to 9.5 bar, where head of the storm (bright area) passes the tail temperatures range from 185–270 K. Intermixed in this layer is a band circling around the left limb. of ammonium hydrosulfide ice, lying in the pressure range 3–6 bar with temperatures of 290–235 K. Finally, the lower layers, where pressures are between 10–20 bar and temperatures are 270–330 K, contains a region of water droplets with ammonia in aqueous solution.[32] Saturn's usually bland atmosphere occasionally exhibits long-lived ovals and other features common on Jupiter. In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope imaged an enormous white cloud near Saturn's equator that was not present during the Voyager encounters and in 1994, another, smaller storm was observed. The 1990 storm was an example of a Great White Spot, a unique but short-lived phenomenon that occurs once every Saturnian year, roughly every 30 Earth years, around the time of the northern hemisphere's summer solstice.[33] Previous Great White Spots were observed in 1876, 1903, 1933 and 1960, with the 1933 storm being the most famous. If the periodicity is maintained, another storm will occur in about 2020.[34] The winds on Saturn are by far the fastest among the Solar System's planets. Voyager data indicate peak easterly winds of 500 m/s (1800 km/h).[35] In images from the Cassini spacecraft during 2007, Saturn's northern hemisphere displayed a bright blue hue, similar to Uranus. The color was most likely caused by Rayleigh scattering.[36] Infrared imaging has shown that Saturn's south pole has a warm polar vortex, the only known example of such a phenomenon in the Solar System.[37] Whereas temperatures on Saturn are normally −185 °C, temperatures on the vortex often reach as high as −122 °C, believed to be the warmest spot on Saturn.[37]



North pole hexagonal cloud pattern
A persisting hexagonal wave pattern around the north polar vortex in the atmosphere at about 78°N was first noted in the Voyager images.[38][39] Unlike the north pole, HST imaging of the south polar region indicates the presence of a jet stream, but no strong polar vortex nor any hexagonal standing wave.[40] NASA reported in November 2006 that Cassini had observed a "hurricane-like" storm locked to the south pole that had a clearly defined eyewall.[41][42] This observation is particularly notable because eyewall clouds had not previously been seen on any planet other than Earth. For example, images from the Galileo spacecraft did not show an eyewall in the Great Red Spot of Jupiter.[43]

North polar hexagonal cloud feature, discovered by Voyager 1 and confirmed in 2006 by Cassini.

The straight sides of the northern polar hexagon are each approximately 13800 km (unknown operator: u'strong' mi) long, making them larger than the diameter of the Earth.[44] The entire structure rotates with a period of 10h 39m 24s, the same period as that of the planet's radio emissions, which is assumed to be equal to the period of rotation of Saturn's interior.[45] The hexagonal feature does not shift in longitude like the other clouds in the visible atmosphere.[46] The pattern's origin is a matter of much speculation. Most astronomers believe it was caused by some standing-wave pattern in the atmosphere; but the hexagon might be a novel aurora. Polygonal shapes have been replicated in spinning buckets of fluid in a laboratory.[47]

Saturn has an intrinsic magnetic field that has a simple, symmetric shape—a magnetic dipole. Its strength at the equator—0.2 gauss (20 µT)—is approximately one twentieth than that of the field around Jupiter and slightly weaker than Earth's magnetic field.[7] As a result Saturn's magnetosphere is much smaller than Jupiter's.[48] When Voyager 2 entered the magnetosphere, the solar wind pressure was high and the magnetosphere extended only 19 Saturn radii, or 1.1 million km (712,000 mi),[49] although it enlarged within several hours, and remained so for about three days.[50] Most probably, the magnetic field is generated similarly to that of Jupiter—by currents in the metallic-hydrogen layer called a metallic-hydrogen dynamo.[48] This magnetosphere is efficient at deflecting the solar wind particles from HST UV image of Saturn taken near equinox the Sun. The moon Titan orbits within the outer part of Saturn's showing both polar aurorae. magnetosphere and contributes plasma from the ionized particles in Titan's outer atmosphere.[7] Saturn's magnetosphere, like Earth's, produces aurorae.[51]



Orbit and rotation
The average distance between Saturn and the Sun is over 1.4 billion kilometres (9 AU). With an average orbital speed of 9.69 km/s,[5] it takes Saturn 10,759 Earth days (or about 29½ years),[52] to finish one revolution around the Sun.[5] The elliptical orbit of Saturn is inclined 2.48° relative to the orbital plane of the Earth.[5] Because of an eccentricity of 0.056, the distance between Saturn and the Sun varies by approximately 155 million kilometres between perihelion and aphelion,[5] which are the nearest and most distant points of the planet along its orbital path, respectively. The visible features on Saturn rotate at different rates depending on latitude and multiple rotation periods have been assigned to various The average distance between Saturn and the Sun regions (as in Jupiter's case): System I has a period of 10 h 14 min 00 s is over 1.4 × 109 km (9 AU). It takes Saturn (844.3°/d) and encompasses the Equatorial Zone, which extends from 10,759 Earth days (or about 29 1⁄2 Earth years), to the northern edge of the South Equatorial Belt to the southern edge of finish one revolution around the Sun. the North Equatorial Belt. All other Saturnian latitudes have been assigned a rotation period of 10 h 38 min 25.4 s (810.76°/d), which is System II. System III, based on radio emissions from the planet in the period of the Voyager flybys, has a period of 10 h 39 min 22.4 s (810.8°/d); because it is very close to System II, it has largely superseded it.[53] A precise value for the rotation period of the interior remains elusive. While approaching Saturn in 2004, Cassini found that the radio rotation period of Saturn had increased appreciably, to approximately 10 h 45 m 45 s (± 36 s).[54][55] In March 2007, it was found that the variation of radio emissions from the planet did not match Saturn's rotation rate. This variance may be caused by geyser activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus. The water vapor emitted into Saturn's orbit by this activity becomes charged and creates a drag upon Saturn's magnetic field, slowing its rotation slightly relative to the rotation of the planet.[56][57][57] The latest estimate of Saturn's rotation based on a compilation of various measurements from the Cassini, Voyager and Pioneer probes was reported in September 2007 is 10 hours, 32 minutes, 35 seconds.[58]

Planetary rings

The rings of Saturn (imaged here by Cassini in 2007) are the most massive and conspicuous in the Solar System.



False-color UV image of Saturn's outer B and A rings; dirtier ringlets in the Cassini Division and Enke Gap show up red.

Saturn is probably best known for its system of planetary rings, which makes it the most visually remarkable object in the solar system.[21] The rings extend from 6,630 km to 120,700 km above Saturn's equator, average approximately 20 meters in thickness and are composed of 93% water ice with traces of tholin impurities and 7% amorphous carbon.[59] The particles that make up the rings range in size from specks of dust up to 10 m.[60] There are two main theories regarding the origin of the rings. One theory is that the rings are remnants of a destroyed moon of Saturn. The second theory is that the rings are left over from the original nebular material from which Saturn formed. Some ice in the central rings comes from the moon Enceladus' ice volcanoes.[61] Beyond the main rings at a distance of 12 million km from the planet is the sparse Phoebe ring, which is tilted at an angle of 27° to the other rings and, like Phoebe, orbits in retrograde fashion.[62] Some of the moons of Saturn, including Pan and Prometheus, act as shepherd moons to confine the rings and prevent them from spreading out.[63] Pan and Atlas cause weak, linear density waves in Saturn's rings that have yielded more reliable calculations of their masses.[64] In the past, astronomers believed the rings formed alongside the planet when it formed billions of years ago.[65] Instead, the age of these planetary rings is probably some hundreds of millions of years.[66]

Natural satellites
Saturn has at least 62 moons, 53 of which have formal names.[67] Titan, the largest, comprises more than 90% of the mass in orbit around Saturn, including the rings.[68] Saturn's second largest moon, Rhea, may have a tenuous ring system of its own,[69] along with a tenuous atmosphere.[70][71][72][73] Many of the other moons are very small: 34 are less than 10 km in diameter and another 14 less than 50 km.[74] Traditionally, most of Saturn's moons have been named after Titans of Greek mythology. Titan is the only satellite in the Solar System with a major atmosphere[75][76] in which a complex organic chemistry occurs. It is the only satellite with hydrocarbon lakes.[77][78] Saturn's moon Enceladus has often been regarded as a potential base for microbial life.[79][80][81][82] Evidence of this life includes the satellite's salt-rich particles having an "ocean-like" composition that indicates most of Enceladus's expelled ice comes from the evaporation of liquid salt water.[83][84][85]

A montage of Saturn and its principal moons (Dione, Tethys, Mimas, Enceladus, Rhea and Titan; Iapetus not shown). This famous image was created from photographs taken in November 1980 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft.

History of exploration
There have been three main phases in the observation and exploration of Saturn. The first era was ancient observations (such as with the naked eye), before the invention of the modern telescopes. Starting in the 17th century progressively more advanced telescopic observations from earth have been made. The other type is visitation by spacecraft, either by orbiting or flyby. In the 21st century observations continue from the earth (or earth-orbiting observatories) and from the Cassini orbiter at Saturn.

Ancient observations
Saturn has been known since prehistoric times.[86] In ancient times, it was the most distant of the five known planets in the solar system (excluding Earth) and thus a major character in various mythologies. Babylonian astronomers systematically observed and recorded the movements of Saturn.[87] In ancient Roman mythology, the god Saturnus,

Saturn from which the planet takes its name, was the god of agriculture.[88] The Romans considered Saturnus the equivalent of the Greek god Cronus.[88] The Greeks had made the outermost planet sacred to Cronus,[89] and the Romans followed suit. (In modern Greek, the planet retains its ancient name Cronus (Κρόνος: Kronos).)[90] Ptolemy, a Greek living in Alexandria,[91] observed an opposition of Saturn, which was the basis for his determination of the elements of its orbit.[92] In Hindu astrology, there are nine astrological objects, known as Navagrahas. Saturn, one of them, is known as "Shani", judges everyone based on the good and bad deeds performed in life.[88] Ancient Chinese and Japanese culture designated the planet Saturn as the earth star (土 星). This was based on Five Elements which were traditionally used to classify natural elements.[93] In ancient Hebrew, Saturn is called 'Shabbathai'.[94] Its angel is Cassiel. Its intelligence or beneficial spirit is Agiel (layga) and its spirit (darker aspect) is Zazel (lzaz). In Ottoman Turkish, Urdu and Malay, its name is 'Zuhal', derived from Arabic ‫.ﺯﺣﻞ‬


European observations (17th–19th centuries)
Saturn's rings require at least a 15-mm-diameter telescope[95] to resolve and thus were not known to exist until Galileo first saw them in 1610.[96][97] He thought of them as two moons on Saturn's sides.[98][99] It was not until Christian Huygens used greater telescopic magnification that this notion was refuted. Huygens discovered Saturn's moon Titan; Giovanni Domenico Cassini later discovered four other moons: Iapetus, Rhea, Tethys and Dione. In 1675, Cassini discovered the gap now known as the Cassini Division.[100] No further discoveries of significance were made until 1789 when William Herschel discovered two further moons, Mimas and Enceladus. The irregularly shaped satellite Hyperion, which has a resonance with Titan, was discovered in 1848 by a British team.[101]
Robert Hooke noted the shadows (a and b) cast by both the globe and the rings on each other in this drawing of Saturn in 1666.

In 1899 William Henry Pickering discovered Phoebe, a highly irregular satellite that does not rotate synchronously with Saturn as the larger moons do.[101] Phoebe was the first such satellite found and it takes more than a year to orbit Saturn in a retrograde orbit. During the early 20th century, research on Titan led to the confirmation in 1944 that it had a thick atmosphere—a feature unique among the solar system's moons.[102]

Modern NASA and ESA probes
Pioneer 11 flyby Pioneer 11 carried out the first flyby of Saturn in September 1979, when it passed within 20,000 km of the planet's cloud tops. Images were taken of the planet and a few of its moons, although their resolution was too low to discern surface detail. The spacecraft also studied Saturn's rings, revealing the thin F-ring and the fact that dark gaps in the rings are bright when viewed at high phase angle (towards the sun), meaning that they contain fine light-scattering material. In addition, Pioneer 11 measured the temperature of Titan.[103] Voyager flybys In November 1980, the Voyager 1 probe visited the Saturn system. It sent back the first high-resolution images of the planet, its rings and satellites. Surface features of various moons were seen for the first time. Voyager 1 performed a close flyby of Titan, increasing knowledge of the atmosphere of the moon. It proved that Titan's atmosphere is impenetrable in visible wavelengths; so, no surface details were seen. The flyby changed the spacecraft's trajectory out from the plane of the solar system.[104]

Saturn Almost a year later, in August 1981, Voyager 2 continued the study of the Saturn system. More close-up images of Saturn's moons were acquired, as well as evidence of changes in the atmosphere and the rings. Unfortunately, during the flyby, the probe's turnable camera platform stuck for a couple of days and some planned imaging was lost. Saturn's gravity was used to direct the spacecraft's trajectory towards Uranus.[104] The probes discovered and confirmed several new satellites orbiting near or within the planet's rings, as well as the small Maxwell Gap (a gap within the C Ring) and Keeler gap (a 42 km wide gap in the A Ring). Cassini–Huygens spacecraft On July 1, 2004, the Cassini–Huygens space probe performed the SOI (Saturn Orbit Insertion) maneuver and entered into orbit around Saturn. Before the SOI, Cassini had already studied the system extensively. In June 2004, it had conducted a close flyby of Phoebe, sending back high-resolution images and data. Cassini's flyby of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has captured radar images of large lakes and their coastlines with numerous islands and mountains. The orbiter completed two Titan flybys before releasing the Huygens probe on December 25, 2004. Huygens descended onto the surface of Titan on January 14, 2005, sending a flood of data during the atmospheric descent and after the landing.[105] Cassini has since conducted multiple flybys of Titan and other icy satellites. Since early 2005, scientists have been tracking lightning on Saturn. The power of the lightning is approximately 1,000 times that of lightning on Earth.[106]


Saturn during equinox imaged by the Cassini orbiter

Saturn eclipses the Sun, as seen from Cassini.

In 2006, NASA reported that Cassini had found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. Images had shown jets of icy particles being emitted into orbit around Saturn from vents in the moon's south polar region. According to Andrew Ingersoll, California Institute of Technology, "Other moons in the solar system have liquid-water oceans covered by kilometers of icy crust. What's different here is that pockets of liquid water may be no more than tens of meters below the surface."[107] In May 2011, NASA scientists at an Enceladus Focus Group Conference reported that Enceladus "is emerging as the most habitable spot beyond Earth in the Solar System for life as we know it".[108][109] Cassini photographs have led to other significant discoveries. They have revealed a previously undiscovered planetary ring, outside the brighter main rings of Saturn and inside the G and E rings. The source of this ring is believed to be the crashing of a meteoroid off two of the moons of Saturn.[110] In July 2006, Cassini images provided evidence of hydrocarbon lakes near Titan's north pole, the presence of which were confirmed in January 2007. In March 2007, additional images near Titan's north pole revealed hydrocarbon "seas", the largest of which is almost the size of the Caspian Sea.[111] In October 2006, the probe detected a 8,000 km diameter cyclone-like storm with an eyewall at Saturn's south pole.[112]

Saturn From 2004 to November 2, 2009, the probe discovered and confirmed 8 new satellites. Its primary mission ended in 2008 when the spacecraft had completed 74 orbits around the planet. The probe's mission was extended to September 2010 and then extended again to 2017, to study a full period of Saturn's seasons.[113]


Saturn is the most distant of the five planets easily visible to the naked eye, the other four being Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter (Uranus and occasionally 4 Vesta are visible to the naked eye in very dark skies). Saturn appears to the naked eye in the night sky as a bright, yellowish point of light whose apparent magnitude is usually between +1 and 0. It takes approximately 29½ years to make a complete circuit of the ecliptic against the background constellations of the zodiac. Most people will require optical aid (large binoculars or a telescope) magnifying at least 20× to clearly resolve Saturn's rings.[21][95] While it is a rewarding target for observation for most of the time it is visible in the sky, Saturn and its rings are best seen when the planet is at or near opposition (the configuration of a planet when it is at an elongation of 180° and thus appears opposite the Sun in the sky). During the opposition of December 17, 2002, Saturn appeared at its brightest due to a favorable orientation of its rings relative to the Earth,[114] even though Saturn was closer to the Earth and Sun in late 2003.[114]

In culture
Further information: Saturn in fiction • Saturn in astrology ( ) is the ruling planet of Capricorn and, traditionally, Aquarius. • Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age is a movement in Gustav Holst's The Planets. • The Saturn family of rockets were developed by a team of mostly German rocket scientists led by Wernher von Braun to launch heavy payloads to Earth orbit and beyond.[115] Originally proposed as a military satellite launcher, they were adopted as the launch vehicles for the Apollo program.

Saturn, from a 1550 edition of Guido Bonatti's Liber astronomiae.

• The day Saturday is named after the planet Saturn, which is derived from the Roman god of agriculture, Saturn.[116][117]

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Bibcode 2005Natur.438..758L. doi:10.1038/nature04347. PMID 16319826. [106] "Astronomers Find Giant Lightning Storm At Saturn" (http:/ / www. sciencedaily. com/ releases/ 2006/ 02/ 060215090726. htm). ScienceDaily LLC. 2007. Archived (http:/ / www. webcitation. org/ 616W9ngSD) from the original on 2011-08-21. . Retrieved 2007-07-27. [107] Pence, Michael (March 9, 2006). "NASA's Cassini Discovers Potential Liquid Water on Enceladus" (http:/ / www. nasa. gov/ mission_pages/ cassini/ media/ cassini-20060309. html). NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Archived (http:/ / www. webcitation. org/ 616WARlPz) from the original on 2011-08-21. . Retrieved 2011-06-03. [108] Lovett, Richard A. (May 31, 2011). "Enceladus named sweetest spot for alien life" (http:/ / www. nature. com/ news/ 2011/ 110531/ full/ news. 2011. 337. html). Nature (Nature). doi:10.1038/news.2011.337. Archived (http:/ / www. webcitation. org/ 62DnnTQPR) from the


original on 2011-10-05. . Retrieved 2011-06-03. [109] Kazan, Casey (June 2, 2011). "Saturn's Enceladus Moves to Top of "Most-Likely-to-Have-Life" List" (http:/ / www. dailygalaxy. com/ my_weblog/ 2011/ 06/ saturns-enceladus-moves-to-top-of-most-likely-to-have-life-list. html). The Daily Galaxy. Archived (http:/ / www. webcitation. org/ 616WAzkcp) from the original on 2011-08-21. . Retrieved 2011-06-03. [110] Shiga, David (September 20, 2007). "Faint new ring discovered around Saturn" (http:/ / space. newscientist. com/ channel/ solar-system/ cassini-huygens/ dn10124-faint-new-ring-discovered-around-saturn. html). NewScientist.com. Archived (http:/ / www. webcitation. org/ 616WDn9aA) from the original on 2011-08-21. . Retrieved 2007-07-08. [111] "Probe reveals seas on Saturn moon" (http:/ / news. bbc. co. uk/ 2/ hi/ science/ nature/ 6449081. stm). BBC. March 14, 2007. Archived (http:/ / www. webcitation. org/ 62Dno9eEL) from the original on 2011-10-05. . Retrieved 2007-09-26. [112] Rincon, Paul (November 10, 2006). "Huge 'hurricane' rages on Saturn" (http:/ / news. bbc. co. uk/ 2/ hi/ science/ nature/ 6135450. stm). BBC. Archived (http:/ / www. webcitation. org/ 62Dnp4804) from the original on 2011-10-05. . Retrieved 2007-07-12. [113] "Mission overview – introduction" (http:/ / saturn. jpl. nasa. gov/ mission/ introduction/ ). Cassini Solstice Mission. NASA / JPL. 2010. Archived (http:/ / www. webcitation. org/ 616WEGPJ0) from the original on 2011-08-21. . Retrieved 2010-11-23. [114] Schmude, Richard W Jr (2003). "Saturn in 2002–03" (http:/ / web. archive. org/ web/ 20071016182307/ http:/ / findarticles. com/ p/ articles/ mi_qa4015/ is_200301/ ai_n9338203). Georgia Journal of Science. Archived from the original (http:/ / findarticles. com/ p/ articles/ mi_qa4015/ is_200301/ ai_n9338203) on 2007-10-16. . Retrieved 2007-10-14. [115] Bilstein, Roger E. (1999). Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicle (http:/ / books. google. com/ books?id=JnoZTbVLx0MC& pg=PA37). DIANE Publishing. p. 37. ISBN 0-7881-8186-6. . [116] Plotner, Tammy (February 22, 2008). "Time to Observe Saturn – Opposition Occurs February 23!" (http:/ / www. universetoday. com/ 12926/ time-to-observe-saturn-opposition-occurs-february-23/ ). Universe Today. Archived (http:/ / www. webcitation. org/ 62DnsTWVi) from the original on 2011-10-05. . Retrieved 2011-07-19. [117] Reis, Ricardo Cardoso; Jones, Jane H.. "Saturn: The Ringed Planet" (http:/ / www. astronomy2009. org/ static/ archives/ presentations/ pdf/ saturn_gn. pdf) (PDF). IAU. . Retrieved 2011-07-23.


Further reading
• Lovett, L.; Horvath, J.; Cuzzi, J. (2006). Saturn: A New View. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.. ISBN 978-0-8109-3090-2. • Karttunen, H.; Kröger, P.; et al. (2007). Fundamental Astronomy. New York: Springer, 5th edition. ISBN 978-3-540-34143-7.

External links
• Saturn profile (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Saturn) at NASA's Solar System Exploration site • Saturn Fact Sheet (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/saturnfact.html), by NASA • Gazeteer of Planetary Nomenclature – Saturn (USGS) (http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/jsp/ SystemSearch2.jsp?System=Saturn) • Cassini–Huygens mission (http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.cfm) to Saturn, by NASA • Research News (http://www.sciencedaily.com/news/space_time/saturn/) about Saturn • General information (http://www.solarviews.com/eng/saturn.htm) about Saturn • Studies on the Rings (http://www.affs.org/html/studies_on_the_rings_of_saturn.html) of Saturn • Astronomy Cast: Saturn (http://www.astronomycast.com/astronomy/episode-59-saturn/) • Outside In (http://www.outsideinthemovie.com/) – film animated from hundreds of thousands of still Cassini photographs • Saturn in Daytime (12 inch telescope) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/vontom/5362248377/)




Uranus in 1986 by Voyager 2
Discovery Discovered by Discovery date William Herschel March 13, 1781 Designations Pronunciation Adjective

/ˈjʊərənəs/ or




Uranian Orbital characteristics Epoch J2000

Aphelion Perihelion Semi-major axis Eccentricity Orbital period

• • • • • •

3,004,419,704 km 20.083 305 26 AU 2,748,938,461 km 18.375 518 63 AU 2,876,679,082 km 19.229 411 95 AU

0.044 405 586
• • •

30,799.095 days 84.323 326 yr [5] 42,718 Uranus solar days

Synodic period Average orbital speed Mean anomaly Inclination

369.66 days 6.81 km/s


142.955 717° 0.772 556° to Ecliptic 6.48° to Sun's equator [7] 1.02° to Invariable plane 73.989 821° 96.541 318° 27

Longitude of ascending node Argument of perihelion Satellites



Physical characteristics Equatorial radius 25,559 ± 4 km [8][9] 4.007 Earths 24,973 ± 20 km [8][9] 3.929 Earths 0.022 9 ± 0.000 8 159,354.1 km
[11] [11][9] [10]

Polar radius

Flattening Circumference Surface area

8.115 6×109 km2 15.91 Earths 6.833×1013 km3 63.086 Earths




(8.6810 ± 0.0013)×1025 kg [12] 14.536 Earths GM=5 793 939 ± 13 km3/s2 1.27 g/cm3 8.69 m/s2 0.886 g

Mean density Equatorial surface gravity


Escape velocity Sidereal rotation period Equatorial rotation velocity Axial tilt North pole right ascension

21.3 km/s


0.718 33 day (Retrograde) [8] 17 h 14 min 24 s 2.59 km/s 9,320 km/h 97.77°

17 h 9 min 15 s [8] 257.311° −15.175°

North pole declination Albedo

0.300 (Bond) [6] 0.51 (geom.) min mean max 76 K 49 K 53 K

Surface temp. [13]    1 bar level    0.1 bar [14] (tropopause)

57 K

Apparent magnitude Angular diameter


to 5.32

3.3"–4.1" Atmosphere

[14][16][17][18] [6]

Scale height Composition

27.7 km

(Below 1.3 bar)



83 ± 3% 15 ± 3% 2.3%

hydrogen (H2) helium methane

[19] 0.009% hydrogen deuteride (HD) (0.007–0.015%)

Ices: ammonia water ammonium hydrosulfide (NH4SH) methane (CH4)

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun. It has the third-largest planetary radius and fourth-largest planetary mass in the Solar System. It is named after the ancient Greek deity of the sky Uranus (Ancient Greek: Οὐρανός), the father of Cronus (Saturn) and grandfather of Zeus (Jupiter). Though it is visible to the naked eye like the five classical planets, it was never recognized as a planet by ancient observers because of its dimness and slow orbit.[1] Sir William Herschel announced its discovery on March 13, 1781, expanding the known boundaries of the Solar System for the first time in modern history. Uranus was also the first planet discovered with a telescope. Uranus is similar in composition to Neptune, and both are of different chemical composition than the larger gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn. Astronomers sometimes place them in a separate category called "ice giants". Uranus's atmosphere, while similar to Jupiter and Saturn's in its primary composition of hydrogen and helium, contains more "ices" such as water, ammonia and methane, along with traces of hydrocarbons.[14] It is the coldest planetary atmosphere in the Solar System, with a minimum temperature of 49 K (−224 °C). It has a complex, layered cloud structure, with water thought to make up the lowest clouds, and methane thought to make up the uppermost layer of clouds.[14] In contrast, the interior of Uranus is mainly composed of ices and rock.[13] Like the other giant planets, Uranus has a ring system, a magnetosphere, and numerous moons. The Uranian system has a unique configuration among the planets because its axis of rotation is tilted sideways, nearly into the plane of its revolution about the Sun. Its north and south poles therefore lie where most other planets have their equators.[2] In 1986, images from Voyager 2 showed Uranus as a virtually featureless planet in visible light without the cloud bands or storms associated with the other giants.[2] Terrestrial observers have seen signs of seasonal change and increased weather activity in recent years as Uranus approached its equinox. The wind speeds on Uranus can reach 250 meters per second (900 km/h, 560 mph).[3]

Uranus had been observed on many occasions before its discovery as a planet, but it was generally mistaken for a star. The earliest recorded sighting was in 1690 when John Flamsteed observed the planet at least six times, cataloging it as 34 Tauri. The French astronomer Pierre Lemonnier observed Uranus at least twelve times between 1750 and 1769,[4] including on four consecutive nights. Sir William Herschel observed the planet on March 13, 1781 while in the garden of his house at 19 New King Street in the town of Bath, Somerset, England (now the Herschel Museum of Astronomy),[5] but initially reported it (on April 26, 1781) as a "comet".[6] Herschel "engaged in a series of observations on the parallax of the fixed stars",[7] using a telescope of his own design.

Uranus He recorded in his journal "In the quartile near ζ Tauri ... either [a] Nebulous star or perhaps a comet".[8] On March 17, he noted, "I looked for the Comet or Nebulous Star and found that it is a Comet, for it has changed its place".[9] When he presented his discovery to the Royal Society, he continued to assert that he had found a comet while also implicitly comparing it to a planet:[10] The power I had on when I first saw the comet was 227. From experience I know that the diameters of the fixed stars are not proportionally magnified with higher powers, as planets are; therefore I now put the powers at 460 and 932, and found that the diameter of the comet increased in proportion to the power, as it ought to be, on the supposition of its not being a fixed star, while the diameters of the stars to which I compared it were not increased in the same ratio. Moreover, the comet being magnified much beyond what its light would admit of, appeared hazy and ill-defined with these great powers, while the stars preserved that lustre and distinctness which from many thousand observations I knew they would retain. The sequel has shown that my surmises were well-founded, this proving to be the Comet we have lately observed. Herschel notified the Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, of his discovery and received this flummoxed reply from him on April 23: "I don't know what to call it. It is as likely to be a regular planet moving in an orbit nearly circular to the sun as a Comet moving in a very eccentric ellipsis. I have not yet seen any coma or tail to it".[11] While Herschel continued to cautiously describe his new object as a comet, other astronomers had already begun to suspect otherwise. Russian astronomer Anders Johan Lexell was the first to compute the orbit of the new object[12] and its nearly circular orbit led him to a conclusion that it was a planet rather than a comet. Berlin astronomer Johann Elert Bode described Herschel's discovery as "a moving star that can be deemed a hitherto unknown planet-like object circulating beyond the orbit of Saturn".[13] Bode concluded that its near-circular orbit was more like a planet than a comet.[14]


Replica of the telescope used by Herschel to discover Uranus (William Herschel Museum, Bath)

The object was soon universally accepted as a new planet. By 1783, Herschel himself acknowledged this fact to Royal Society president Joseph Banks: "By the observation of the most eminent Astronomers in Europe it appears that the new star, which I had the honour of pointing out to them in March 1781, is a Primary Planet of our Solar System."[15] In recognition of his achievement, King George III gave Herschel an annual stipend of £200 on the condition that he move to Windsor so that the Royal Family could have a chance to look through his telescopes.[16]

Maskelyne asked Herschel to "do the astronomical world the faver [sic] to give a name to your planet, which is entirely your own, [and] which we are so much obliged to you for the discovery of."[17] In response to Maskelyne's request, Herschel decided to name the object Georgium Sidus (George's Star), or the "Georgian Planet" in honour of his new patron, King George III.[18] He explained this decision in a letter to Joseph Banks:[15] In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were given to the Planets, as being the names of their principal heroes and divinities. In the present more philosophical era it would hardly be allowable to have recourse to the same method and call it Juno, Pallas, Apollo or Minerva, for a name to our new heavenly body. The first consideration of any particular event, or remarkable incident, seems to be its chronology: if in any future age it should be asked, when this last-found Planet was discovered? It would be a very satisfactory answer to say, 'In the reign of King George the Third'.



Herschel's proposed name was not popular outside of Britain, and alternatives were soon proposed. Astronomer Jérôme Lalande proposed the planet be named Herschel in honour of its discoverer.[19] Swedish astronomer Erik Prosperin proposed the name Neptune which was supported by other astronomers who liked the idea to commemorate the victories of the British Royal Naval fleet in the course of the American Revolutionary War by calling the new planet even Neptune George III or Neptune Great Britain.[12] Bode opted for Uranus, the Latinized version of the Greek god of the sky, Ouranos. Bode argued that just as Saturn was the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be named after the father of Saturn.[16][20][21] In 1789, Bode's Royal Academy colleague Martin Klaproth named his newly discovered element "uranium" in support of Bode's choice.[22] Ultimately, Bode's suggestion became the most widely used, and became universal in 1850 when HM Nautical Almanac Office, the final holdout, switched from using Georgium Sidus to Uranus.[20]

William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus

The pronunciation of the name Uranus preferred among astronomers is /ˈjʊərənəs/,[2][23] with stress on the first syllable as in Latin Ūranus; in contrast to the colloquial /jʊˈreɪnəs/,[24] with stress on the second syllable and a long a, though both are considered acceptable.[25] Uranus is the only planet whose name is derived from a figure from Greek mythology rather than Roman mythology: the Greek "Οὐρανός" arrived in English by way of the Latin "Ūranus".[1] The adjective of Uranus is "Uranian".[26] It has two astronomical symbols. The first to be proposed, ♅,[27] was suggested by Lalande in 1784. In a letter to Herschel, Lalande described it as "un globe surmonté par la première lettre de votre nom" ("a globe surmounted by the first letter of your surname").[19] A later proposal, ⛢,[28] is a hybrid of the symbols for Mars and the Sun because Uranus was the Sky in Greek mythology, which was thought to be dominated by the combined powers of the Sun and Mars.[29] In the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese languages, the planet's name is literally translated as the sky king star (天 王 星).[30][31]

Orbit and rotation
Uranus revolves around the Sun once every 84 Earth years. Its average distance from the Sun is roughly 3 billion km (about 20 AU). The intensity of sunlight on Uranus is about 1/400 that on Earth.[32] Its orbital elements were first calculated in 1783 by Pierre-Simon Laplace.[33] With time, discrepancies began to appear between the predicted and observed orbits, and in 1841, John Couch Adams first proposed that the differences might be due to the gravitational tug of an unseen planet. In 1845, Urbain Le Verrier began his own independent research into Uranus's orbit. On September 23, 1846, Johann Gottfried Galle located a new planet, later named Neptune, at nearly the position predicted by Le Verrier.[34] The rotational period of the interior of Uranus is 17 hours, 14 minutes, clockwise (retrograde). As on all giant planets, its upper atmosphere experiences very strong winds in the direction of rotation. At some
Uranus revolves around the Sun once every 84 Earth years. Its average distance from the Sun is roughly 3 billion km (about 20 AU)



latitudes, such as about two-thirds of the way from the equator to the south pole, visible features of the atmosphere move much faster, making a full rotation in as little as 14 hours.[35]

Axial tilt
Uranus has an axial tilt of 97.77 degrees, so its axis of rotation is approximately parallel with the plane of the Solar System. This gives it seasonal changes completely unlike those of the other major planets. Other planets can be visualized to rotate like tilted spinning tops on the plane of the Solar System, while Uranus rotates more like a tilted rolling ball. Near the time of Uranian solstices, one pole faces the Sun A 1998 false-colour near-infrared image of continuously while the other pole faces away. Only a narrow strip Uranus showing cloud bands, rings, and moons around the equator experiences a rapid day-night cycle, but with the obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope's NICMOS camera. Sun very low over the horizon as in the Earth's polar regions. At the other side of Uranus's orbit the orientation of the poles towards the Sun is reversed. Each pole gets around 42 years of continuous sunlight, followed by 42 years of darkness.[36] Near the time of the equinoxes, the Sun faces the equator of Uranus giving a period of day-night cycles similar to those seen on most of the other planets. Uranus reached its most recent equinox on December 7, 2007.[37][38]
Northern hemisphere Winter solstice Vernal equinox Summer solstice Autumnal equinox Year 1902, 1986 1923, 2007 1944, 2028 1965, 2049 Southern hemisphere Summer solstice Autumnal equinox Winter solstice Vernal equinox

One result of this axis orientation is that, on average during the year, the polar regions of Uranus receive a greater energy input from the Sun than its equatorial regions. Nevertheless, Uranus is hotter at its equator than at its poles. The underlying mechanism which causes this is unknown. The reason for Uranus's unusual axial tilt is also not known with certainty, but the usual speculation is that during the formation of the Solar System, an Earth-sized protoplanet collided with Uranus, causing the skewed orientation.[39] Uranus's south pole was pointed almost directly at the Sun at the time of Voyager 2's flyby in 1986. The labeling of this pole as "south" uses the definition currently endorsed by the International Astronomical Union, namely that the north pole of a planet or satellite shall be the pole which points above the invariable plane of the Solar System, regardless of the direction the planet is spinning.[40][41] A different convention is sometimes used, in which a body's north and south poles are defined according to the right-hand rule in relation to the direction of rotation.[42] In terms of this latter coordinate system it was Uranus's north pole which was in sunlight in 1986.

From 1995 to 2006, Uranus's apparent magnitude fluctuated between +5.6 and +5.9, placing it just within the limit of naked eye visibility at +6.5.[15] Its angular diameter is between 3.4 and 3.7 arcseconds, compared with 16 to 20 arcseconds for Saturn and 32 to 45 arcseconds for Jupiter.[15] At opposition, Uranus is visible to the naked eye in dark skies, and becomes an easy target even in urban conditions with binoculars.[11] In larger amateur telescopes with an objective diameter of between 15 and 23 cm, the planet appears as a pale cyan disk with distinct limb darkening. With a large telescope of 25 cm or wider, cloud patterns, as well as some of the larger satellites, such as Titania and Oberon, may be visible.[43]



Internal structure
Uranus's mass is roughly 14.5 times that of the Earth, making it the least massive of the giant planets. Its diameter is slightly larger than Neptune's at roughly four times Earth's. A resulting density of 1.27 g/cm3 makes Uranus the second least dense planet, after Saturn.[8][12] This value indicates that it is made primarily of various ices, such as water, ammonia, and methane.[13] The total mass of ice in Uranus's interior is not precisely known, as different figures emerge depending on the model chosen; it must be between 9.3 and 13.5 Earth masses.[13][44] Hydrogen and helium constitute only a small part of the total, with between 0.5 and 1.5 Earth masses.[13] The remainder of the non-ice mass (0.5 to 3.7 Earth masses) is accounted for by rocky material.[13]

Size comparison of Earth and Uranus

The standard model of Uranus's structure is that it consists of three layers: a rocky (silicate/iron-nickel) core in the center, an icy mantle in the middle and an outer gaseous hydrogen/helium envelope.[13][45] The core is relatively small, with a mass of only 0.55 Earth masses and a radius less than 20% of Uranus's; the mantle comprises the bulk of the planet, with around 13.4 Earth masses, while the upper atmosphere is relatively insubstantial, weighing about 0.5 Earth masses and extending for the last 20% of Uranus's radius.[13][45] Uranus's core density is around 9 g/cm3, with a pressure in the center of 8 million bars (800 GPa) and a temperature of about 5000 K.[44][45] Diagram of the interior of Uranus The ice mantle is not in fact composed of ice in the conventional sense, but of a hot and dense fluid consisting of water, ammonia and other volatiles.[13][45] This fluid, which has a high electrical conductivity, is sometimes called a water–ammonia ocean.[46] The bulk compositions of Uranus and Neptune are very different from those of Jupiter and Saturn, with ice dominating over gases, hence justifying their separate classification as ice giants. There may be a layer of ionic water where the water molecules break down into a soup of hydrogen and oxygen ions, and deeper down superionic water in which the oxygen crystallises but the hydrogen ions move freely within the oxygen lattice.[47] While the model considered above is reasonably standard, it is not unique; other models also satisfy observations. For instance, if substantial amounts of hydrogen and rocky material are mixed in the ice mantle, the total mass of ices in the interior will be lower, and, correspondingly, the total mass of rocks and hydrogen will be higher. Presently available data does not allow science to determine which model is correct.[44] The fluid interior structure of Uranus means that it has no solid surface. The gaseous atmosphere gradually transitions into the internal liquid layers.[13] For the sake of convenience, a revolving oblate spheroid set at the point at which atmospheric pressure equals 1 bar (100 kPa) is conditionally designated as a "surface". It has equatorial and polar radii of 25 559 ± 4 and 24 973 ± 20 km, respectively.[8] This surface will be used throughout this article as a zero point for altitudes.

Internal heat
Uranus's internal heat appears markedly lower than that of the other giant planets; in astronomical terms, it has a low thermal flux.[3][48] Why Uranus's internal temperature is so low is still not understood. Neptune, which is Uranus's near twin in size and composition, radiates 2.61 times as much energy into space as it receives from the Sun.[3] Uranus, by contrast, radiates hardly any excess heat at all. The total power radiated by Uranus in the far infrared (i.e. heat) part of the spectrum is 1.06 ± 0.08 times the solar energy absorbed in its atmosphere.[14][49] In fact, Uranus's

Uranus heat flux is only 0.042 ± 0.047 W/m2, which is lower than the internal heat flux of Earth of about 0.075 W/m2.[49] The lowest temperature recorded in Uranus's tropopause is 49 K (−224 °C), making Uranus the coldest planet in the Solar System.[14][49] One of the hypotheses for this discrepancy suggests that when Uranus was hit by a supermassive impactor, which caused it to expel most of its primordial heat, it was left with a depleted core temperature.[50] Another hypothesis is that some form of barrier exists in Uranus's upper layers which prevents the core's heat from reaching the surface.[13] For example, convection may take place in a set of compositionally different layers, which may inhibit the upward heat transport;[14][49] it is possible that double diffusive convection is a limiting factor.[13]


Although there is no well-defined solid surface within Uranus's interior, the outermost part of Uranus's gaseous envelope that is accessible to remote sensing is called its atmosphere.[14] Remote sensing capability extends down to roughly 300 km below the 1 bar (100 kPa) level, with a corresponding pressure around 100 bar (10 MPa) and temperature of 320 K.[51] The tenuous corona of the atmosphere extends remarkably over two planetary radii from the nominal surface at 1 bar pressure.[52] The Uranian atmosphere can be divided into three layers: the troposphere, between altitudes of −300 and 50 km and pressures from 100 to 0.1 bar; (10 MPa to 10 kPa), the stratosphere, spanning altitudes between 50 and 4000 km and pressures of between 0.1 and 10−10 bar (10 kPa to 10 µPa), and the thermosphere/corona extending from 4,000 km to as high as 50,000 km from the surface.[14] There is no mesosphere.

The composition of the Uranian atmosphere is different from the rest of the planet, consisting as it does mainly of molecular hydrogen and helium.[14] The helium molar fraction, i.e. the number of helium atoms per molecule of gas, is 0.15 ± 0.03[17] in the upper troposphere, which corresponds to a mass fraction 0.26 ± 0.05.[14][49] This value is very close to the protosolar helium mass fraction of 0.275 ± 0.01,[53] indicating that helium has not settled in the center of the planet as it has in the gas giants.[14] The third most abundant constituent of the Uranian atmosphere is methane (CH4).[14] Methane possesses prominent absorption bands in the visible and near-infrared (IR) making Uranus aquamarine or cyan in color.[14] Methane molecules account for 2.3% of the atmosphere by molar fraction below the methane cloud deck at the pressure level of 1.3 bar (130 kPa); this represents about 20 to 30 times the carbon abundance found in the Sun.[14][16][54] The mixing ratio[55] is much lower in the upper atmosphere owing to its extremely low temperature, which lowers the saturation level and causes excess methane to freeze out.[56] The abundances of less volatile compounds such as ammonia, water and hydrogen sulfide in the deep atmosphere are poorly known. They are probably also higher than solar values.[14][57] Along with methane, trace amounts of various hydrocarbons are found in the stratosphere of Uranus, which are thought to be produced from methane by photolysis induced by the solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation.[58] They include ethane (C2H6), acetylene (C2H2), methylacetylene (CH3C2H), diacetylene (C2HC2H).[56][59][60] Spectroscopy has also uncovered traces of water vapor, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere, which can only originate from an external source such as infalling dust and comets.[59][60][61]



The troposphere is the lowest and densest part of the atmosphere and is characterized by a decrease in temperature with altitude.[14] The temperature falls from about 320 K at the base of the nominal troposphere at −300 km to 53 K at 50 km.[51][54] The temperatures in the coldest upper region of the troposphere (the tropopause) actually vary in the range between 49 and 57 K depending on planetary latitude.[14][48] The tropopause region is responsible for the vast majority of the planet’s thermal far infrared emissions, thus determining its effective temperature of 59.1 ± 0.3 K.[48][49]

Temperature profile of the Uranian troposphere and lower stratosphere. Cloud and haze layers are also indicated.

The troposphere is believed to possess a highly complex cloud structure; water clouds are hypothesised to lie in the pressure range of 50 to 100 bar (5 to 10 MPa), ammonium hydrosulfide clouds in the range of 20 to 40 bar (2 to 4 MPa), ammonia or hydrogen sulfide clouds at between 3 and 10 bar (0.3 to 1 MPa) and finally directly detected thin methane clouds at 1 to 2 bar (0.1 to 0.2 MPa).[14][16][51][62] The troposphere is a very dynamic part of the atmosphere, exhibiting strong winds, bright clouds and seasonal changes, which will be discussed below.[3]

Upper atmosphere
The middle layer of the Uranian atmosphere is the stratosphere, where temperature generally increases with altitude from 53 K in the tropopause to between 800 and 850 K at the base of the thermosphere.[52] The heating of the stratosphere is caused by absorption of solar UV and IR radiation by methane and other hydrocarbons,[63] which form in this part of the atmosphere as a result of methane photolysis.[58] Heat is also conducted from the hot thermosphere.[63] The hydrocarbons occupy a relatively narrow layer at altitudes of between 100 and 300 km corresponding to a pressure range of 10 to 0.1 mbar (1000 to 10 kPa) and temperatures of between 75 and 170 K.[56][59] The most abundant hydrocarbons are methane, acetylene and ethane with mixing ratios of around 10−7 relative to hydrogen. The mixing ratio of carbon monoxide is similar at these altitudes.[56][59][61] Heavier hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide have mixing ratios three orders of magnitude lower.[59] The abundance ratio of water is around 7×10−9.[60] Ethane and acetylene tend to condense in the colder lower part of stratosphere and tropopause (below 10 mBar level) forming haze layers,[58] which may be partly responsible for the bland appearance of Uranus. The concentration of hydrocarbons in the Uranian stratosphere above the haze is significantly lower than in the stratospheres of the other giant planets.[56][64] The outermost layer of the Uranian atmosphere is the thermosphere and corona, which has a uniform temperature around 800 to 850 K.[14][64] The heat sources necessary to sustain such a high value are not understood, since neither solar far UV and extreme UV radiation nor auroral activity can provide the necessary energy. The weak cooling efficiency due to the lack of hydrocarbons in the stratosphere above 0.1 mBar pressure level may contribute too.[52][64] In addition to molecular hydrogen, the thermosphere-corona contains many free hydrogen atoms. Their small mass together with the high temperatures explain why the corona extends as far as 50 000 km or two Uranian radii from the planet.[52][64] This extended corona is a unique feature of Uranus.[64] Its effects include a drag on small particles orbiting Uranus, causing a general depletion of dust in the Uranian rings.[52] The Uranian

Uranus thermosphere, together with the upper part of the stratosphere, corresponds to the ionosphere of Uranus.[54] Observations show that the ionosphere occupies altitudes from 2 000 to 10 000 km.[54] The Uranian ionosphere is denser than that of either Saturn or Neptune, which may arise from the low concentration of hydrocarbons in the stratosphere.[64][65] The ionosphere is mainly sustained by solar UV radiation and its density depends on the solar activity.[66] Auroral activity is insignificant as compared to Jupiter and Saturn.[64][67]


Planetary rings
Uranus has a complicated planetary ring system, which was the second such system to be discovered in the Solar System after Saturn's.[68] The rings are composed of extremely dark particles, which vary in size from micrometers to a fraction of a meter.[2] Thirteen distinct rings are presently known, the brightest being the ε ring. All except two rings of Uranus are extremely narrow—they are usually a few kilometres wide. The rings are probably quite young; the dynamics considerations indicate that they did not form with Uranus. The matter in the rings may once have been part of a moon (or moons) that was shattered by high-speed impacts. From numerous pieces of debris that formed as result of those impacts only few particles survived in a limited number of stable zones corresponding to present rings.[68][69] William Herschel described a possible ring around Uranus in 1789. This sighting is generally considered doubtful, as the rings are quite faint, and in the two following centuries none were noted by other observers. Still, Herschel made an accurate description of the epsilon ring's size, its angle relative to the Earth, its red color, and its apparent changes as Uranus traveled around the Sun.[70][71] The ring system was definitively discovered on March 10, 1977 by James L. Elliot, Edward W. Dunham, and Douglas J. Mink using the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. The discovery was serendipitous; they planned to use the occultation of the star SAO 158687 by Uranus to study the planet's atmosphere. When their observations were analyzed, they found that the star had disappeared briefly from view five times both before and after it disappeared behind the planet. They concluded that there must be a ring system around the planet.[72] Later they detected four additional rings.[72] The rings were directly imaged when Voyager 2 passed Uranus in 1986.[2] Voyager 2 also discovered two additional faint rings bringing the total number to eleven.[2]

Uranus's inner rings. The bright outer ring is the ε ring; eight other rings are present.

The Uranian ring system

In December 2005, the Hubble Space Telescope detected a pair of previously unknown rings. The largest is located at twice the distance from the planet of the previously known rings. These new rings are so far from the planet that they are called the "outer" ring system. Hubble also spotted two small satellites, one of which, Mab, shares its orbit with the outermost newly discovered ring. The new rings bring the total number of Uranian rings to 13.[73] In April 2006, images of the new rings with the Keck Observatory yielded the colours of the outer rings: the outermost is blue and the other red.[74][75] One hypothesis concerning the outer ring's blue colour is that it is composed of minute particles of water ice from the surface of Mab that are small enough to scatter blue light.[74][76] In contrast, the planet's inner rings appear grey.[74]



Magnetic field
Before the arrival of Voyager 2, no measurements of the Uranian magnetosphere had been taken, so its nature remained a mystery. Before 1986, astronomers had expected the magnetic field of Uranus to be in line with the solar wind, since it would then align with the planet's poles that lie in the ecliptic.[77] Voyager's observations revealed that the magnetic field is peculiar, both because it does not originate from the planet's geometric center, and because it is tilted at 59° from the axis of rotation.[77][78] In fact the magnetic dipole is shifted from the The magnetic field of Uranus as observed by Voyager 2 in 1986. S and N are center of the planet towards the south magnetic south and north poles. rotational pole by as much as one third of [77] the planetary radius. This unusual geometry results in a highly asymmetric magnetosphere, where the magnetic field strength on the surface in the southern hemisphere can be as low as 0.1 gauss (10 µT), whereas in the northern hemisphere it can be as high as 1.1 gauss (110 µT).[77] The average field at the surface is 0.23 gauss (23 µT).[77] In comparison, the magnetic field of Earth is roughly as strong at either pole, and its "magnetic equator" is roughly parallel with its geographical equator.[78] The dipole moment of Uranus is 50 times that of Earth.[77][78] Neptune has a similarly displaced and tilted magnetic field, suggesting that this may be a common feature of ice giants.[78] One hypothesis is that, unlike the magnetic fields of the terrestrial and gas giant planets, which are generated within their cores, the ice giants' magnetic fields are generated by motion at relatively shallow depths, for instance, in the water–ammonia ocean.[46][79] Despite its curious alignment, in other respects the Uranian magnetosphere is like those of other planets: it has a bow shock located at about 23 Uranian radii ahead of it, a magnetopause at 18 Uranian radii, a fully developed magnetotail and radiation belts.[77][78][80] Overall, the structure of Uranus's magnetosphere is different from Jupiter's and more similar to Saturn's.[77][78] Uranus's magnetotail trails behind the planet into space for millions of kilometers and is twisted by the planet's sideways rotation into a long corkscrew.[77][81]



Uranus's magnetosphere contains charged particles: protons and electrons with small amount of H2+ ions.[78][80] No heavier ions have been detected. Many of these particles probably derive from the hot atmospheric corona.[80] The ion and electron energies can be as high as 4 and 1.2 megaelectronvolts, respectively.[80] The density of low energy (below 1 kiloelectronvolt) ions in the inner magnetosphere is about 2 cm−3.[82] The particle population is strongly affected by the Uranian moons that sweep through the magnetosphere leaving noticeable gaps.[80] The particle flux is high enough to cause darkening or space weathering of the moon’s surfaces on an astronomically rapid timescale of 100,000 years.[80] This may be the cause of the uniformly dark colouration of the moons and rings.[69] Uranus has relatively well developed aurorae, which are seen as bright arcs around both magnetic poles.[64] Unlike Jupiter's, Uranus's aurorae seem to be insignificant for the energy balance of the planetary thermosphere.[67]

Uranus's aurorae against its equatorial rings, imaged by the Hubble telescope. Unlike the aurorae of Earth and Jupiter, they are not in line with the planet's poles, due to its lopsided magnetic field.

At ultraviolet and visible wavelengths, Uranus's atmosphere is remarkably bland in comparison to the other gas giants, even to Neptune, which it otherwise closely resembles.[3] When Voyager 2 flew by Uranus in 1986, it observed a total of ten cloud features across the entire planet.[2][83] One proposed explanation for this dearth of features is that Uranus's internal heat appears markedly lower than that of the other giant planets. The lowest temperature recorded in Uranus's tropopause is 49 K, making Uranus the coldest planet in the Solar System, colder than Neptune.[14][49]

Uranus's southern hemisphere in approximate natural colour (left) and in shorter wavelengths (right), showing its faint cloud bands and atmospheric "hood" as seen by Voyager 2



Banded structure, winds and clouds
In 1986 Voyager 2 found that the visible southern hemisphere of Uranus can be subdivided into two regions: a bright polar cap and dark equatorial bands (see figure on the right).[2] Their boundary is located at about −45 degrees of latitude. A narrow band straddling the latitudinal range from −45 to −50 degrees is the brightest large feature on the visible surface of the planet.[2][84] It is called a southern "collar". The cap and collar are thought to be a dense region of methane clouds located within the pressure range of 1.3 to 2 bar (see above).[85] Besides the large-scale banded structure, Voyager 2 observed ten small bright clouds, most lying several degrees to the north from the collar.[2] In all other respects Uranus looked like a dynamically dead planet in 1986. Unfortunately Voyager 2 arrived during the height of the planet's southern summer and could not observe the northern hemisphere. At the beginning of the 21st century, when the northern polar region came into view, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and Keck telescope initially observed neither a collar nor a polar cap in the northern hemisphere.[84] So Uranus appeared to be asymmetric: bright near the south pole and uniformly dark in the region north of the southern collar.[84] In 2007, when Uranus passed its equinox, the southern collar almost disappeared, while a faint northern collar emerged near 45

Zonal wind speeds on Uranus. Shaded areas show the southern collar and its future northern counterpart. The red curve is a symmetrical fit to the data.

degrees of latitude.[86] In the 1990s, the number of the observed bright cloud features grew considerably partly because new high resolution imaging techniques became available.[3] Most were found in the northern hemisphere as it started to become visible.[3] An early explanation—that bright clouds are easier to identify in the dark part of the planet, whereas in the southern hemisphere the bright collar masks them—was shown to be incorrect: the actual number of features has indeed increased considerably.[87][88] Nevertheless there are differences between the clouds of each hemisphere. The northern clouds are smaller, sharper The first dark spot observed on Uranus. Image and brighter.[88] They appear to lie at a higher altitude.[88] The lifetime obtained by the HST ACS in 2006. of clouds spans several orders of magnitude. Some small clouds live for hours, while at least one southern cloud may have persisted since Voyager flyby.[3][83] Recent observation also discovered that cloud features on Uranus have a lot in common with those on Neptune.[3] For example, the dark spots common on Neptune had never been observed on Uranus before 2006, when the first such feature dubbed Uranus Dark Spot was imaged.[89] The speculation is that Uranus is becoming more Neptune-like during its equinoctial season.[90] The tracking of numerous cloud features allowed determination of zonal winds blowing in the upper troposphere of Uranus.[3] At the equator winds are retrograde, which means that they blow in the reverse direction to the planetary rotation. Their speeds are from −100 to −50 m/s.[3][84] Wind speeds increase with the distance from the equator, reaching zero values near ±20° latitude, where the troposphere's temperature minimum is located.[3][48] Closer to the poles, the winds shift to a prograde direction, flowing with the planet's rotation. Windspeeds continue to increase reaching maxima at ±60° latitude before falling to zero at the poles.[3] Windspeeds at −40° latitude range from 150 to 200 m/s. Since the collar obscures all clouds below that parallel, speeds between it and the southern pole are

Uranus impossible to measure.[3] In contrast, in the northern hemisphere maximum speeds as high as 240 m/s are observed near +50 degrees of latitude.[3][84][91]


Seasonal variation
For a short period from March to May 2004, a number of large clouds appeared in the Uranian atmosphere, giving it a Neptune-like appearance.[88][92] Observations included record-breaking wind speeds of 229 m/s (824 km/h) and a persistent thunderstorm referred to as "Fourth of July fireworks".[83] On August 23, 2006, researchers at the Space Science Institute (Boulder, CO) and the University of Wisconsin observed a dark spot on Uranus's surface, giving astronomers more insight into the planet's atmospheric activity.[89] Why this sudden upsurge in activity should be occurring is not fully known, but it appears that Uranus's extreme axial tilt results in extreme seasonal variations in its weather.[38][90] Determining the nature of this seasonal variation is difficult because good data on Uranus's atmosphere have existed for less than 84 years, or one full Uranian year. A number of discoveries have been made. Photometry over the course of half a Uranian year (beginning in the 1950s) has shown regular variation in the brightness in two spectral bands, with maxima occurring at the solstices and minima occurring at the equinoxes.[93] A similar periodic variation, with maxima at the solstices, has been noted in microwave measurements of the deep troposphere begun in the 1960s.[94] Stratospheric temperature measurements beginning in the 1970s also showed maximum values near the 1986 solstice.[63] The majority of this variability is believed to occur owing to changes in the viewing geometry.[87]

There are some reasons to believe that physical seasonal changes are happening in Uranus. While the planet is known to have a bright south polar region, the north pole is fairly dim, which is incompatible with the model of the seasonal change outlined above.[90] During its previous northern solstice in 1944, Uranus displayed elevated levels of brightness, which suggests that the north pole was not always so dim.[93] This information implies that the visible pole brightens some time before the solstice and darkens after the equinox.[90] Detailed analysis of the visible and microwave data revealed that the periodical changes of brightness are not completely symmetrical around the solstices, which also indicates a change in the meridional albedo patterns.[90] Finally in the 1990s, as Uranus moved away from its solstice, Hubble and ground based telescopes revealed that the south polar cap darkened noticeably (except the southern collar, which remained bright),[85] while the northern hemisphere demonstrated increasing activity,[83] such as cloud formations and stronger winds, bolstering expectations that it should brighten soon.[88] This indeed happened in 2007 when the planet passed an equinox: a faint northern polar collar arose, while the southern collar became nearly invisible, although the zonal wind profile remained slightly asymmetric, with northern winds being somewhat slower than southern.[86] The mechanism of physical changes is still not clear.[90] Near the summer and winter solstices, Uranus's hemispheres lie alternately either in full glare of the Sun's rays or facing deep space. The brightening of the sunlit hemisphere is thought to result from the local thickening of the methane clouds and haze layers located in the troposphere.[85] The bright collar at −45° latitude is also connected with methane clouds.[85] Other changes in the southern polar region can be explained by changes in the lower cloud layers.[85] The variation of the microwave emission from the planet is probably caused by a changes in the deep tropospheric circulation, because thick polar clouds and haze may inhibit convection.[95] Now that the spring and autumn equinoxes are arriving on Uranus, the dynamics are changing and convection can occur again.[83][95]

Uranus in 2005. Rings, southern collar and a bright cloud in the northern hemisphere are visible (HST ACS image).



Many argue that the differences between the ice giants and the gas giants extend to their formation.[96][97] The Solar System is believed to have formed from a giant rotating ball of gas and dust known as the presolar nebula. Much of the nebula's gas, primarily hydrogen and helium, formed the Sun, while the dust grains collected together to form the first protoplanets. As the planets grew, some of them eventually accreted enough matter for their gravity to hold onto the nebula's leftover gas.[96][97] The more gas they held onto, the larger they became; the larger they became, the more gas they held onto until a critical point was reached, and their size began to increase exponentially. The ice giants, with only a few Earth masses of nebular gas, never reached that critical point.[96][97][98] Recent simulations of planetary migration have suggested that both ice giants formed closer to the Sun than their present positions, and moved outwards after formation, a hypothesis which is detailed in the Nice model.[96]

Uranus has 27 known natural satellites.[98] The names for these satellites are chosen from characters from the works of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.[45][99] The five main satellites are Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon.[45] The Uranian Major moons of Uranus in order of increasing distance (left to right), at their proper satellite system is the least massive relative sizes and albedos (collage of Voyager 2 photographs) among the gas giants; indeed, the combined mass of the five major satellites would be less than half that of Triton alone.[12] The largest of the satellites, Titania, has a radius of only 788.9 km, or less than half that of the Moon, but slightly more than Rhea, the second largest moon of Saturn, making Titania the eighth largest moon in the Solar System. The moons have relatively low albedos; ranging from 0.20 for Umbriel to 0.35 for Ariel (in green light).[2] The moons are ice-rock conglomerates composed of roughly The Uranus System (NACO/VLT image) fifty percent ice and fifty percent rock. The ice may include ammonia and carbon dioxide.[69][100] Among the satellites, Ariel appears to have the youngest surface with the fewest impact craters, while Umbriel's appears oldest.[2][69] Miranda possesses fault canyons 20 kilometers deep, terraced layers, and a chaotic variation in surface ages and features.[2] Miranda's past geologic activity is believed to have been driven by tidal heating at a time when its orbit was more eccentric than currently, probably as a result of a formerly present 3:1 orbital resonance with Umbriel.[101] Extensional processes associated with upwelling diapirs are the likely origin of the moon's 'racetrack'-like coronae.[102][103] Similarly, Ariel is believed to have once been held in a 4:1 resonance with Titania.[104]



In 1986, NASA's Voyager 2 interplanetary probe encountered Uranus. This flyby remains the only investigation of the planet carried out from a short distance, and no other visits are currently planned. Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Uranus on January 24, 1986, coming within 81,500 kilometers of the planet's cloudtops, before continuing its journey to Neptune. Voyager 2 studied the structure and chemical composition of Uranus's atmosphere,[54] including the planet's unique weather, caused by its axial tilt of 97.77°. It made the first detailed investigations of its five largest moons, and discovered 10 new moons. It examined all nine of the system's known rings, discovering two new ones.[2][69][105] It also studied the magnetic field, its irregular structure, its tilt and its unique corkscrew magnetotail caused by Uranus's sideways orientation.[77]

The possibility of sending the Cassini spacecraft to Uranus was evaluated during a mission extension planning phase in 2009.[106] It would take about twenty years to get to the Uranian system after departing Saturn.[106] A Uranus orbiter and probe was recommended by the 2013–2022 Planetary Science Decadal Survey published in 2011;the proposal envisages launch during 2020–2023 and a 13-year cruise to Uranus.[107] A Uranus entry probe could use Pioneer Venus Multiprobe heritage and descend to 1–5 atmospheres.[107] The ESA evaluated a "medium-class" mission called Uranus Pathfinder.[108] A New Frontiers Uranus Orbiter has been evaluated and recommended in the study, The Case for a Uranus Orbiter.[109] Such a mission is aided by the ease with which a relatively big mass can be sent to the system—over 1500 kg with an Atlas 521 and 12 year journey.[110] For more concepts see Proposed Uranus missions.

Crescent Uranus as imaged by Voyager 2 while departing for Neptune

In culture
In astrology, the planet Uranus ( ) is the ruling planet of Aquarius. Since Uranus is colored cyan and Uranus is associated with electricity, the color electric blue, a color close to cyan, is associated with the sign Aquarius.[111] (See Uranus in astrology) The chemical element uranium, discovered in 1789 by the German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth, was named after the newly discovered planet Uranus.[112] Uranus, the Magician is a movement in Gustav Holst's The Planets, written between 1914 and 1916. Operation Uranus was the successful military operation in World War II by the Soviet army to take back Stalingrad and marked the turning point in the land war against the Wehrmacht. The line, Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken, from John Keats's On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer is a reference to Herschel's discovery of Uranus.[113]



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[97] Brunini, Adrian; Fernandez, Julio A. (1999). "Numerical simulations of the accretion of Uranus and Neptune". Plan. Space Sci. 47 (5): 591–605. Bibcode 1999P&SS...47..591B. doi:10.1016/S0032-0633(98)00140-8. [98] Sheppard, Scott S.; Jewitt, David; Kleyna, Jan (2006). "An Ultradeep Survey for Irregular Satellites of Uranus: Limits to Completeness". The Astronomical Journal 129: 518–525. arXiv:astro-ph/0410059. Bibcode 2005AJ....129..518S. doi:10.1086/426329. [99] "Uranus" (http:/ / www. nineplanets. org/ uranus. html). nineplanets.org. . Retrieved July 3, 2007. [100] Hussmann, Hauke; Sohl, Frank; Spohn, Tilman (2006). "Subsurface oceans and deep interiors of medium-sized outer planet satellites and large trans-neptunian objects". Icarus 185: 258–273. Bibcode 2006Icar..185..258H. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2006.06.005. [101] doi: 10.1016/0019-1035(90)90125-S This citation will be automatically completed in the next few minutes. You can jump the queue or expand by hand (http:/ / en. wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Template:cite_doi/ _10. 1016. 2f0019-1035. 2890. 2990125-s_?preload=Template:Cite_doi/ preload& editintro=Template:Cite_doi/ editintro& action=edit) [102] Pappalardo, R. T., Reynolds, S. J., Greeley, R. (1997). "Extensional tilt blocks on Miranda: Evidence for an upwelling origin of Arden Corona" (http:/ / www. agu. org/ pubs/ crossref/ 1997/ 97JE00802. shtml). Journal of Geophysical Research 102 (E6): 13,369–13,380. Bibcode 1997JGR...10213369P. doi:10.1029/97JE00802. . [103] Chaikin, Andrew (October 16, 2001). "Birth of Uranus' Provocative Moon Still Puzzles Scientists" (http:/ / web. archive. org/ web/ 20080709020909/ http:/ / www. space. com/ scienceastronomy/ solarsystem/ miranda_creation_011016-1. html). Space.Com. ImaginovaCorp.. . Retrieved December 7, 2007. [104] doi: 10.1016/0019-1035(90)90024-4 This citation will be automatically completed in the next few minutes. You can jump the queue or expand by hand (http:/ / en. wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Template:cite_doi/ _10. 1016. 2f0019-1035. 2890. 2990024-4_?preload=Template:Cite_doi/ preload& editintro=Template:Cite_doi/ editintro& action=edit) [105] "Voyager: The Interstellar Mission: Uranus" (http:/ / voyager. jpl. nasa. gov/ science/ uranus. html). JPL. 2004. . Retrieved June 9, 2007. [106] Bob Pappalardo; Linda Spiker (2009-03-09). "Cassini Proposed Extended-Extended Mission (XXM)" (http:/ / www. lpi. usra. edu/ opag/ march09/ presentations/ pappalardo. pdf) (PDF). . Retrieved 2011-08-20. [107] Space Studies Board. "NRC planetary decadal survey 2013–2022" (http:/ / solarsystem. nasa. gov/ 2013decadal/ ). NASA Lunar Science Institute. . Retrieved 2011-08-05. [108] Michael Schirber – '''Missions Proposed to Explore Mysterious Tilted Planet Uranus''' (2011) – Astrobiology Magazine (http:/ / www. space. com/ 13248-nasa-uranus-missions-solar-system. html). Space.com. Retrieved on 2012-04-02. [109] THE CASE FOR A URANUS ORBITER (http:/ / www. lpi. usra. edu/ decadal/ opag/ UranusOrbiter_v7. pdf), Mark Hofstadter et al. [110] To Uranus on Solar Power and Batteries (http:/ / www. lpi. usra. edu/ opag/ march09/ presentations/ hofstadter. pdf). (PDF) . Retrieved on 2012-04-02. [111] Parker, Derek and Julia Aquarius. Planetary Zodiac Library. New York: Mitchell Beazley/Ballantine Book. 1972. p. 14. [112] "Uranium" (http:/ / www. answers. com/ uranium). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. . Retrieved April 20, 2010. [113] "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" (http:/ / academic. brooklyn. cuny. edu/ english/ melani/ cs6/ homer. html). City University of New York. 2009. . Retrieved 2011-10-29.


References Further reading
• Miner, Ellis D. (1998). Uranus: The Planet, Rings and Satellites. New York: John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-471-97398-0.

External links
• Uranus (http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/object/index.cfm?fobjectid=35653) at European Space Agency • NASA's Uranus fact sheet (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/uranusfact.html) • Uranus Profile (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Uranus) at NASA's Solar System Exploration site (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov) • Planets—Uranus (http://www.projectshum.org/Planets/uranus.html) A kid's guide to Uranus. • Uranus (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/targetFamily/Uranus) at Jet Propulsion Laboratory's planetary photojournal. (photos) • Voyager at Uranus (http://www.ciclops.org/ir_index/81/Voyager_at_Uranus) (photos) • Uranus (Astronomy Cast homepage) (http://www.astronomycast.com/astronomy/episode-62-uranus/) (blog)

Uranus • Uranian system montage (http://www.solarviews.com/raw/uranus/urfamily.jpg) (photo)



Neptune from Voyager 2 with Great Dark Spot at left
Discovery Discovered by
• • •

Urbain Le Verrier John Couch Adams Johann Galle

Discovery date

September 23, 1846 Designations

Pronunciation Adjective




Neptunian Orbital characteristics Epoch J2000

Aphelion Perihelion Semi-major axis Eccentricity Orbital period

4,553,946,490 km 30.44125206 AU 4,452,940,833 km 29.76607095 AU 4,503,443,661 km 30.10366151 AU 0.011214269 60,190.03  days 164.79 years [6] 89,666 Neptune solar days 367.49 day 5.43 km/s
[7] [5]

Synodic period Average orbital speed Mean anomaly






1.767975° to Ecliptic 6.43° to Sun’s equator [8] 0.72° to Invariable plane 131.794310° 265.646853° 13 Physical characteristics

Longitude of ascending node Argument of perihelion Satellites

Equatorial radius

24,764 ± 15 km 3.883 Earths 24,341 ± 30 km 3.829 Earths


Polar radius


Flattening Surface area

0.0171 ± 0.0013 7.6183×109 km2 14.98 Earths 6.254×1013 km3 57.74 Earths 1.0243×1026 kg 17.147 Earths 1.638 g/cm3 11.15 m/s2 1.14 g 23.5 km/s





Mean density Equatorial surface gravity



Escape velocity Sidereal rotation period Equatorial rotation velocity Axial tilt North pole right ascension

[7][10] [7]

0.6713 day 16 h 6 min 36 s 2.68 km/s 9,660 km/h 28.32°
[7] [9]

19h 57m 20s 299.3° 42.950°

North pole declination Albedo

0.290 (bond) [7] 0.41 (geom.) min mean 72 K 55 K
[7] [7]

Surface temp.    1 bar level    0.1 bar (unknown operator: u'strong' kPa)


Apparent magnitude Angular diameter

8.02 to 7.78 2.2–2.4″





Atmosphere Scale height Composition


19.7 ± 0.6 km 80±3.2% 19±3.2% 1.5±0.5% ~0.019% hydrogen (H2) helium (He) methane (CH4) hydrogen deuteride (HD)

~0.00015% ethane (C2H6) Ices:
• • • •

ammonia (NH3) water (H2O) ammonium hydrosulfide (NH4SH) methane (?)

Neptune is the eighth and farthest planet from the Sun in the Solar System. It is the fourth-largest planet by diameter and the third largest by mass. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth and is somewhat more massive than its near-twin Uranus, which is 15 times the mass of Earth but not as dense.[1] On average, Neptune orbits the Sun at a distance of 30.1 AU, approximately 30 times the Earth–Sun distance. Named for the Roman god of the sea, its astronomical symbol is ♆, a stylized version of the god Neptune's trident. Neptune was the first planet found by mathematical prediction rather than by empirical observation. Unexpected changes in the orbit of Uranus led Alexis Bouvard to deduce that its orbit was subject to gravitational perturbation by an unknown planet. Neptune was subsequently observed on September 23, 1846[1] by Johann Galle within a degree of the position predicted by Urbain Le Verrier, and its largest moon, Triton, was discovered shortly thereafter, though none of the planet's remaining 12 moons were located telescopically until the 20th century. Neptune has been visited by only one spacecraft, Voyager 2, which flew by the planet on August 25, 1989. Neptune is similar in composition to Uranus, and both have compositions which differ from those of the larger gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn. Neptune's atmosphere, while similar to Jupiter's and Saturn's in that it is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, along with traces of hydrocarbons and possibly nitrogen, contains a higher proportion of "ices" such as water, ammonia and methane. Astronomers sometimes categorize Uranus and Neptune as "ice giants" in order to emphasize these distinctions.[2] The interior of Neptune, like that of Uranus, is primarily composed of ices and rock.[3] Traces of methane in the outermost regions in part account for the planet's blue appearance.[4] In contrast to the relatively featureless atmosphere of Uranus, Neptune's atmosphere is notable for its active and visible weather patterns. For example, at the time of the 1989 Voyager 2 flyby, the planet's southern hemisphere possessed a Great Dark Spot comparable to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. These weather patterns are driven by the strongest sustained winds of any planet in the Solar System, with recorded wind speeds as high as 2100 kilometres per hour (unknown operator: u'strong' mph).[5] Because of its great distance from the Sun, Neptune's outer atmosphere is one of the coldest places in the Solar System, with temperatures at its cloud tops approaching −218 °C (unknown operator: u'strong' K). Temperatures at the planet's centre are approximately 5400 K (unknown operator: u'strong' °C).[6][7] Neptune has a faint and fragmented ring system (labeled 'arcs'), which may have been detected during the 1960s but was only indisputably confirmed in 1989 by Voyager 2.[8]



Galileo's drawings show that he first observed Neptune on December 28, 1612, and again on January 27, 1613. On both occasions, Galileo mistook Neptune for a fixed star when it appeared very close—in conjunction—to Jupiter in the night sky;[9] hence, he is not credited with Neptune's discovery. During the period of his first observation in December 1612, Neptune was stationary in the sky because it had just turned retrograde that very day. This apparent backward motion is created when the orbit of the Earth takes it past an outer planet. Since Neptune was only beginning its yearly retrograde cycle, the motion of the planet was far too slight to be detected with Galileo's small telescope.[10] In July 2009 University of Melbourne physicist David Jamieson announced new evidence suggesting that Galileo was at least aware that the star he had observed had moved relative to the fixed stars.[11] In 1821, Alexis Bouvard published astronomical tables of the orbit of Neptune's neighbour Uranus.[12] Subsequent observations revealed substantial deviations from the tables, leading Bouvard to hypothesize that an unknown body was perturbing the orbit through gravitational interaction.[13] In 1843, John Couch Adams began work on the orbit of Uranus using the data he had. Via James Challis, he requested extra data from Sir George Airy, the Astronomer Royal, who supplied it in February 1844. Adams continued to work in 1845–46 and produced several different estimates of a new planet.[14][15] In 1845–46, Urbain Le Verrier, independently of Adams, developed his own calculations but also experienced difficulties in stimulating any enthusiasm in his compatriots. In June 1846, upon seeing Le Verrier's first published estimate of the planet's longitude and its similarity to Adams's estimate, Airy persuaded Cambridge Observatory director James Challis to search for the planet. Challis vainly scoured the sky throughout August and September.[13][16] Meantime, Le Verrier by letter urged Berlin Observatory astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle to search with the observatory's refractor. Heinrich d'Arrest, a student at the observatory, suggested to Galle that they could compare a recently drawn chart of the sky in the region of Le Verrier's predicted location with the current sky to seek the displacement characteristic of a planet, as opposed to a Urbain Le Verrier fixed star. The very evening of the day of receipt of Le Verrier's letter on September 23, 1846, Neptune was discovered within 1° of where Le Verrier had predicted it to be, and about 12° from Adams' prediction. Challis later realized that he had observed the planet twice in August (Neptune had been observed on August 8 and 12, but because Challis lacked an up-to-date star-map it was not recognized as a planet), failing to identify it owing to his casual approach to the work.[13][17] In the wake of the discovery, there was much nationalistic rivalry between the French and the British over who had priority and deserved credit for the discovery. Eventually an international consensus emerged that both Le Verrier and Adams jointly deserved credit. Since 1966 Dennis Rawlins has questioned the credibility of Adams's claim to co-discovery and the issue was re-evaluated by historians with the return in 1998 of the "Neptune papers" (historical documents) to the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.[18] After reviewing the documents, they suggest that "Adams does not deserve equal credit with Le Verrier for the discovery of Neptune. That credit belongs only to the person who succeeded both in predicting the planet's place and in convincing astronomers to search for it."[19]



Shortly after its discovery, Neptune was referred to simply as "the planet exterior to Uranus" or as "Le Verrier's planet". The first suggestion for a name came from Galle, who proposed the name Janus. In England, Challis put forward the name Oceanus.[20] Claiming the right to name his discovery, Le Verrier quickly proposed the name Neptune for this new planet, while falsely stating that this had been officially approved by the French Bureau des Longitudes.[21] In October, he sought to name the planet Le Verrier, after himself, and he had loyal support in this from the observatory director, François Arago. This suggestion met with stiff resistance outside France.[22] French almanacs quickly reintroduced the name Herschel for Uranus, after that planet's discoverer Sir William Herschel, and Leverrier for the new planet.[23] Struve came out in favour of the name Neptune on December 29, 1846, to the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences.[24] Soon Neptune became the internationally accepted name. In Roman mythology, Neptune was the god of the sea, identified with the Greek Poseidon. The demand for a mythological name seemed to be in keeping with the nomenclature of the other planets, all of which, except for Earth, were named for Greek and Roman mythology.[25] Most languages today, even in countries that have no direct link to Greco-Roman culture, use some variant of the name "Neptune" for the planet; in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, the planet's name was literally translated as "sea king star" (海 王 星), since Neptune was the god of the sea.[26] In modern Greek, though, the planet retains its ancient name Poseidon (Ποσειδώνας: Poseidonas), the Greek counterpart to Neptune.[27]

From its discovery in 1846 until the subsequent discovery of Pluto in 1930, Neptune was the farthest known planet. Upon Pluto's discovery Neptune became the penultimate planet, save for a 20-year period between 1979 and 1999 when Pluto's elliptical orbit brought it closer to the sun than Neptune.[28] The discovery of the Kuiper belt in 1992 led many astronomers to debate whether Pluto should be considered a planet in its own right or part of the belt's larger structure.[29][30] In 2006, the International Astronomical Union defined the word "planet" for the first time, reclassifying Pluto as a "dwarf planet" and making Neptune once again the last planet in the Solar System.[31]

Composition and structure
With a mass of 1.0243×1026 kg,[7] Neptune is an intermediate body between Earth and the larger gas giants: its mass is seventeen times that of the Earth but just 1/19th that of Jupiter.[1] The planet's surface gravity is only surpassed by Jupiter.[32] Neptune's equatorial radius of 24764 km[9] is nearly four times that of the Earth. Neptune and Uranus are often considered a sub-class of gas giant termed "ice giants", due to their smaller size and higher concentrations of volatiles relative to Jupiter and Saturn.[33] In the search for extrasolar planets Neptune has been used as a metonym: discovered bodies of similar mass are often referred to as "Neptunes",[34] just as astronomers refer to various extra-solar bodies as "Jupiters".

A size comparison of Neptune and Earth



Internal structure
Neptune's internal structure resembles that of Uranus. Its atmosphere forms about 5% to 10% of its mass and extends perhaps 10% to 20% of the way towards the core, where it reaches pressures of about 10 GPa. Increasing concentrations of methane, ammonia and water are found in the lower regions of the atmosphere.[6] The mantle reaches temperatures of 2,000 K to 5,000 K. It is equivalent to 10 to 15 Earth masses and is rich in water, ammonia and methane.[1] As is customary in planetary science, this mixture is referred to as icy even though it is a hot, highly dense fluid. This fluid, which has a high electrical conductivity, is sometimes called a water-ammonia ocean.[35] At a depth of 7000 km, the conditions may be such that methane decomposes into diamond crystals that then precipitate toward the core.[36] The mantle may consist of a layer of ionic water where the water molecules break down into a soup of hydrogen and oxygen ions, and deeper down superionic water in which the oxygen crystallises but the hydrogen ions float around freely within the oxygen lattice.[37]

The internal structure of Neptune: 1. Upper atmosphere, top clouds 2. Atmosphere consisting of hydrogen, helium and methane gas 3. Mantle consisting of water, ammonia and methane ices 4. Core consisting of rock (silicates and nickel-iron)

The core of Neptune is composed of iron, nickel and silicates, with an interior model giving a mass about 1.2 times that of the Earth.[38] The pressure at the centre is 7 Mbar (700 GPa), millions of times more than that on the surface of the Earth, and the temperature may be 5,400 K.[6][7]

At high altitudes, Neptune's atmosphere is 80% hydrogen and 19% helium.[6] A trace amount of methane is also present. Prominent absorption bands of methane occur at wavelengths above 600 nm, in the red and infrared portion of the spectrum. As with Uranus, this absorption of red light by the atmospheric methane is part of what gives Neptune its blue hue,[39] although Neptune's vivid azure differs from Uranus's milder cyan. Since Neptune's atmospheric methane content is similar to that of Uranus, some unknown atmospheric constituent is thought to contribute to Neptune's colour.[4]
Combined colour and near-infrared image of

Neptune's atmosphere is sub-divided into two main regions; the lower Neptune, showing bands of methane in its atmosphere, and four of its moons, Proteus, troposphere, where temperature decreases with altitude, and the Larissa, Galatea, and Despina. stratosphere, where temperature increases with altitude. The boundary between the two, the tropopause, occurs at a pressure of 0.1 bars (unknown operator: u'strong' kPa).[2] The stratosphere then gives way to the thermosphere at a pressure lower than 10−5 to 10−4 microbars (1 to 10 Pa).[2] The thermosphere gradually transitions to the exosphere.



Models suggest that Neptune's troposphere is banded by clouds of varying compositions depending on altitude. The upper-level clouds occur at pressures below one bar, where the temperature is suitable for methane to condense. For pressures between one and five bars (100 and 500 kPa), clouds of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are believed to form. Above a pressure of five bars, the clouds may consist of ammonia, ammonium sulfide, hydrogen sulfide and water. Deeper clouds of water ice should be found at pressures of about 50 bars (unknown operator: u'strong' MPa), where the temperature reaches 0 °C. Underneath, clouds of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide may be found.[40]

Bands of high-altitude clouds cast shadows on Neptune's lower cloud deck

High-altitude clouds on Neptune have been observed casting shadows on the opaque cloud deck below. There are also high-altitude cloud bands that wrap around the planet at constant latitude. These circumferential bands have widths of 50–150 km and lie about 50–110 km above the cloud deck.[41] Neptune's spectra suggest that its lower stratosphere is hazy due to condensation of products of ultraviolet photolysis of methane, such as ethane and acetylene.[2][6] The stratosphere is also home to trace amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide.[2][42] The stratosphere of Neptune is warmer than that of Uranus due to the elevated concentration of hydrocarbons.[2] For reasons that remain obscure, the planet's thermosphere is at an anomalously high temperature of about 750 K.[43][44] The planet is too far from the Sun for this heat to be generated by ultraviolet radiation. One candidate for a heating mechanism is atmospheric interaction with ions in the planet's magnetic field. Other candidates are gravity waves from the interior that dissipate in the atmosphere. The thermosphere contains traces of carbon dioxide and water, which may have been deposited from external sources such as meteorites and dust.[40][42]

Neptune also resembles Uranus in its magnetosphere, with a magnetic field strongly tilted relative to its rotational axis at 47° and offset at least 0.55 radii, or about 13500 km from the planet's physical centre. Before Voyager 2's arrival at Neptune, it was hypothesised that Uranus's tilted magnetosphere was the result of its sideways rotation. In comparing the magnetic fields of the two planets, scientists now think the extreme orientation may be characteristic of flows in the planets' interiors. This field may be generated by convective fluid motions in a thin spherical shell of electrically conducting liquids (probably a combination of ammonia, methane and water)[40] resulting in a dynamo action.[45] The dipole component of the magnetic field at the magnetic equator of Neptune is about 14 microteslas (0.14 G).[46] The dipole magnetic moment of Neptune is about 2.2 × 1017 T·m3 (14 μT·RN3, where RN is the radius of Neptune). Neptune's magnetic field has a complex geometry that includes relatively large contributions from non-dipolar components, including a strong quadrupole moment that may exceed the dipole moment in strength. By contrast, Earth, Jupiter and Saturn have only relatively small quadrupole moments, and their fields are less tilted from the polar axis. The large quadrupole moment of Neptune may be the result of offset from the planet's centre and geometrical constraints of the field's dynamo generator.[47][48] Neptune's bow shock, where the magnetosphere begins to slow the solar wind, occurs at a distance of 34.9 times the radius of the planet. The magnetopause, where the pressure of the magnetosphere counterbalances the solar wind, lies at a distance of 23–26.5 times the radius of Neptune. The tail of the magnetosphere extends out to at least 72 times the radius of Neptune, and very likely much farther.[47]



Planetary rings
Neptune has a planetary ring system, though one much less substantial than that of Saturn. The rings may consist of ice particles coated with silicates or carbon-based material, which most likely gives them a reddish hue.[49] The three main rings are the narrow Adams Ring, 63000 km from the centre of Neptune, the Le Verrier Ring, at 53000 km, and the broader, fainter Galle Ring, at 42000 km. A faint outward extension to the Le Verrier Ring has been named Lassell; it is bounded at its outer edge by the Arago Ring at 57000 km.[50] The first of these planetary rings was discovered in 1968 by a team led by Neptune's rings, taken by Voyager 2 Edward Guinan,[8][51] but it was later thought that this ring might be incomplete.[52] Evidence that the rings might have gaps first arose during a stellar occultation in 1984 when the rings obscured a star on immersion but not on emersion.[53] Images by Voyager 2 in 1989 settled the issue by showing several faint rings. These rings have a clumpy structure,[54] the cause of which is not currently understood but which may be due to the gravitational interaction with small moons in orbit near them.[55] The outermost ring, Adams, contains five prominent arcs now named Courage, Liberté, Egalité 1, Egalité 2 and Fraternité (Courage, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity).[56] The existence of arcs was difficult to explain because the laws of motion would predict that arcs would spread out into a uniform ring over very short timescales. Astronomers now believe that the arcs are corralled into their current form by the gravitational effects of Galatea, a moon just inward from the ring.[57][58] Earth-based observations announced in 2005 appeared to show that Neptune's rings are much more unstable than previously thought. Images taken from the W. M. Keck Observatory in 2002 and 2003 show considerable decay in the rings when compared to images by Voyager 2. In particular, it seems that the Liberté arc might disappear in as little as one century.[59]

One difference between Neptune and Uranus is the typical level of meteorological activity. When the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Uranus in 1986, that planet was visually quite bland. In contrast Neptune exhibited notable weather phenomena during the 1989 Voyager 2 fly-by.[60] Neptune's weather is characterized by extremely dynamic storm systems, with winds reaching speeds of almost 600 m/s—nearly attaining supersonic flow.[5] More typically, by tracking the motion of persistent clouds, wind speeds have been shown to vary from 20 m/s in the easterly direction to 325 m/s westward.[62] At the cloud tops, the prevailing winds range in speed from 400 m/s along the equator to 250 m/s at the poles.[40] Most of the winds on Neptune move in a direction opposite the planet's rotation.[63] The general pattern of winds showed prograde rotation at high latitudes vs. retrograde rotation at lower latitudes. The difference in flow direction is believed to be a "skin effect" and not due to any deeper atmospheric processes.[2] At 70° S latitude, a high-speed jet travels at a speed of 300 m/s.[2]

The Great Dark Spot (top), Scooter [61] (middle white cloud), and the Small Dark Spot (bottom), with contrast exaggerated.

The abundance of methane, ethane and ethyne at Neptune's equator is 10–100 times greater than at the poles. This is interpreted as evidence for upwelling at the equator and subsidence near the poles.[2] In 2007 it was discovered that the upper troposphere of Neptune's south pole was about 10 °C warmer than the rest of Neptune, which averages approximately −200 °C (unknown operator: u'strong' K).[64] The warmth differential

Neptune is enough to let methane, which elsewhere lies frozen in Neptune's upper atmosphere, leak out as gas through the south pole and into space. The relative "hot spot" is due to Neptune's axial tilt, which has exposed the south pole to the Sun for the last quarter of Neptune's year, or roughly 40 Earth years. As Neptune slowly moves towards the opposite side of the Sun, the south pole will be darkened and the north pole illuminated, causing the methane release to shift to the north pole.[65] Because of seasonal changes, the cloud bands in the southern hemisphere of Neptune have been observed to increase in size and albedo. This trend was first seen in 1980 and is expected to last until about 2020. The long orbital period of Neptune results in seasons lasting forty years.[66]


In 1989, the Great Dark Spot, an anti-cyclonic storm system spanning 13000×6600 km,[60] was discovered by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft. The storm resembled the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. Some five years later, on November 2, 1994, the Hubble Space Telescope did not see the Great Dark Spot on the planet. Instead, a new storm similar to the Great Dark Spot was found in the planet's northern hemisphere.[67] The Scooter is another storm, a white cloud group farther south than the Great Dark Spot. Its nickname is due to the fact that when first detected in the months before the 1989 Voyager 2 encounter it moved faster than the Great Dark Spot.[63] Subsequent images revealed even faster clouds. The Small Dark Spot is a southern cyclonic storm, the second-most-intense storm observed during the 1989 encounter. It initially was completely dark, but as Voyager 2 approached the planet, a bright core developed and can be seen in most of the highest-resolution images.[68]

The Great Dark Spot, as imaged by Voyager 2

Neptune's dark spots are thought to occur in the troposphere at lower altitudes than the brighter cloud features,[69] so they appear as holes in the upper cloud decks. As they are stable features that can persist for several months, they are thought to be vortex structures.[41] Often associated with dark spots are brighter, persistent methane clouds that form around the tropopause layer.[70] The persistence of companion clouds shows that some former dark spots may continue to exist as cyclones even though they are no longer visible as a dark feature. Dark spots may dissipate when they migrate too close to the equator or possibly through some other unknown mechanism.[71]



Internal heat
Neptune's more varied weather when compared to Uranus is believed to be due in part to its higher internal heat. Although Neptune lies half again as far from the Sun as Uranus, and receives only 40% its amount of sunlight,[2] the two planets' surface temperatures are roughly equal.[73] The upper regions of Neptune's troposphere reach a low temperature of −221.4 °C (unknown operator: u'strong' K). At a depth where the atmospheric pressure equals 1 bar (unknown operator: u'strong' kPa), the temperature is −201.15 °C (unknown operator: u'strong' K).[74] Deeper inside the layers of gas, the temperature rises steadily. As with Uranus, the source of this heating is unknown, but the discrepancy is larger: Uranus only radiates 1.1 times as much energy as it receives from the Sun;[75] while Neptune radiates about 2.61 times as much energy as it receives from the Sun.[76] Four images taken a few hours apart with the Neptune is the farthest planet from the Sun, yet its internal energy is NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's Wide [72] Field Camera 3. sufficient to drive the fastest planetary winds seen in the Solar System. Several possible explanations have been suggested, including radiogenic heating from the planet's core,[73] conversion of methane under high pressure into hydrogen, diamond and longer hydrocarbons (the hydrogen and diamond would then rise and sink, respectively, releasing gravitational potential energy),[73][77] and convection in the lower atmosphere that causes gravity waves to break above the tropopause.[78][79]

Orbit and rotation
The average distance between Neptune and the Sun is 4.50 billion km (about 30.1 AU), and it completes an orbit on average every 164.79 years, subject to a variability of around ±0.1 years. On July 11, 2011, Neptune completed its first full barycentric orbit since its discovery in 1846,[80][81] although it did not appear at its exact discovery position in our sky because the Earth was in a different location in its 365.25-day orbit. Because of the motion of the Sun in relation to the barycentre of the Solar System, on 11 July Neptune was also not at its exact discovery position in relation to the Sun; if the more common heliocentric coordinate system is used, the discovery longitude was reached on July 12, 2011.[5][82][83]
Neptune (red arc) completes one revolution The elliptical orbit of Neptune is inclined 1.77° compared to the Earth. around the Sun (center) for every 164.79 orbits of Because of an eccentricity of 0.011, the distance between Neptune and the Earth. The blue object is Uranus. the Sun varies by 101 million km between perihelion and aphelion, the nearest and most distant points of the planet from the Sun along the orbital path, respectively.[3]

The axial tilt of Neptune is 28.32°,[84] which is similar to the tilts of Earth (23°) and Mars (25°). As a result, this planet experiences similar seasonal changes. The long orbital period of Neptune means that the seasons last for forty Earth years.[66] Its sidereal rotation period (day) is roughly 16.11 hours.[5] Since its axial tilt is comparable to the Earth's, the variation in the length of its day over the course of its long year is not any more extreme. Because Neptune is not a solid body, its atmosphere undergoes differential rotation. The wide equatorial zone rotates with a period of about 18 hours, which is slower than the 16.1-hour rotation of the planet's magnetic field. By

Neptune contrast, the reverse is true for the polar regions where the rotation period is 12 hours. This differential rotation is the most pronounced of any planet in the Solar System,[85] and it results in strong latitudinal wind shear.[41]


Orbital resonances
Neptune's orbit has a profound impact on the region directly beyond it, known as the Kuiper belt. The Kuiper belt is a ring of small icy worlds, similar to the asteroid belt but far larger, extending from Neptune's orbit at 30 AU out to about 55 AU from the Sun.[86] Much in the same way that Jupiter's gravity dominates the asteroid belt, shaping its structure, so Neptune's gravity dominates the Kuiper belt. Over the age of the Solar System, certain regions of the Kuiper belt become destabilized by Neptune's gravity, creating gaps in the Kuiper belt's structure. The region between 40 and 42 AU is an example.[87] There do exist orbits within these empty regions where A diagram showing the major orbital resonances in the Kuiper belt caused by Neptune: the highlighted regions are the 2:3 resonance objects can survive for the age of the Solar System. (plutinos), the nonresonant "classical belt" (cubewanos), and the 1:2 These resonances occur when Neptune's orbital period resonance (twotinos). is a precise fraction of that of the object, such as 1:2, or 3:4. If, say, an object orbits the Sun once for every two Neptune orbits, it will only complete half an orbit by the time Neptune returns to its original position. The most heavily populated resonance in the Kuiper belt, with over 200 known objects,[88] is the 2:3 resonance. Objects in this resonance complete 2 orbits for every 3 of Neptune, and are known as plutinos because the largest of the known Kuiper belt objects, Pluto, is among them.[89] Although Pluto crosses Neptune's orbit regularly, the 2:3 resonance ensures they can never collide.[90] The 3:4, 3:5, 4:7 and 2:5 resonances are less populated.[91] Neptune possesses a number of trojan objects occupying the Sun-Neptune L4 Lagrangian point— a gravitationally stable region leading it in its orbit.[92] Neptune trojans can be viewed as being in a 1:1 resonance with Neptune. Neptune trojans are remarkably stable in their orbits, and are likely to have formed alongside Neptune rather than being captured. The first and so far only object identified as associated with Neptune's trailing L5 Lagrangian point is 2008 LC18.[93]

Formation and migration
The formation of the ice giants, Neptune and Uranus, has proven difficult to model precisely. Current models suggest that the matter density in the outer regions of the Solar System was too low to account for the formation of such large bodies from the traditionally accepted method of core accretion, and various hypotheses have been advanced to explain their

A simulation showing the outer planets and Kuiper Belt: a) before Jupiter and Saturn reached a 2:1 resonance; b) after inward scattering of Kuiper Belt objects following the orbital shift of Neptune; c) after ejection of scattered Kuiper Belt bodies by Jupiter

Neptune creation. One is that the ice giants were not created by core accretion but from instabilities within the original protoplanetary disc, and later had their atmospheres blasted away by radiation from a nearby massive OB star.[94] An alternative concept is that they formed closer to the Sun, where the matter density was higher, and then subsequently migrated to their current orbits after the removal of the gaseous protoplanetary disc.[95] This hypothesis of migration after formation is currently favoured, due to its ability to better explain the occupancy of the populations of small objects observed in the trans-Neptunian region.[96] The current most widely accepted[97][98][99] explanation of the details of this hypothesis is known as the Nice model, which explores the effect of a migrating Neptune and the other giant planets on the structure of the Kuiper belt.


Neptune has 13 known moons.[7] The largest by far, comprising more than 99.5% of the mass in orbit around Neptune[100] and the only one massive enough to be spheroidal, is Triton, discovered by William Lassell just 17 days after the discovery of Neptune itself. Unlike all other large planetary moons in the Solar System, Triton has a retrograde orbit, indicating that it was captured rather than forming in place; it probably was once a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt.[101] It is close enough to Neptune to be locked into a synchronous rotation, and it is slowly spiralling inward because of tidal acceleration and eventually will be torn apart, in about 3.6 billion years, when it reaches the Roche limit.[102] In 1989, Triton was the coldest object that had yet been measured in the solar system,[103] with estimated temperatures of .[104] Neptune's second known satellite (by order of discovery), the irregular moon Nereid, has one of the most eccentric orbits of any satellite in the solar system. The eccentricity of 0.7512 gives it an apoapsis that is seven times its periapsis distance from Neptune.[105]

Neptune (top) and Triton (bottom)

Natural colour view of Neptune with Proteus (top), Larissa (lower right) and Despina (left), from the Hubble Space Telescope



From July to September 1989, Voyager 2 discovered six new Neptunian moons.[47] Of these, the irregularly shaped Proteus is notable for being as large as a body of its density can be without being pulled into a spherical shape by its own gravity.[106] Although the second-most-massive Neptunian moon, it is only 0.25% the mass of Triton. Neptune's innermost four moons—Naiad, Thalassa, Despina and Galatea—orbit close enough to be within Neptune's rings. The next-farthest out, Larissa, was originally discovered in 1981 when it had occulted a star. This occultation had been attributed to ring arcs, but when Voyager 2 observed Neptune in 1989, it was found to have been caused by the moon. Five Neptune's moon Proteus new irregular moons discovered between 2002 and 2003 were announced in 2004.[107][108] As Neptune was the Roman god of the sea, the planet's moons have been named after lesser sea gods.[25]

Neptune is never visible to the naked eye, having a brightness between magnitudes +7.7 and +8.0,[7][11] which can be outshone by Jupiter's Galilean moons, the dwarf planet Ceres and the asteroids 4 Vesta, 2 Pallas, 7 Iris, 3 Juno and 6 Hebe.[109] A telescope or strong binoculars will resolve Neptune as a small blue disk, similar in appearance to Uranus.[110] Because of the distance of Neptune from the Earth, the angular diameter of the planet only ranges from 2.2 to 2.4 arcseconds,[7][11] the smallest of the Solar System planets. Its small apparent size has made it challenging to study visually. Most telescopic data was fairly limited until the advent of Hubble Space Telescope and large ground-based telescopes with adaptive optics.[111][112] From the Earth, Neptune goes through apparent retrograde motion every 367 days, resulting in a looping motion against the background stars during each opposition. These loops carried it close to the 1846 discovery coordinates in April and July 2010 and again in October and November 2011.[83] Observation of Neptune in the radio frequency band shows that the planet is a source of both continuous emission and irregular bursts. Both sources are believed to originate from the planet's rotating magnetic field.[40] In the infrared part of the spectrum, Neptune's storms appear bright against the cooler background, allowing the size and shape of these features to be readily tracked.[113]



Voyager 2's closest approach to Neptune occurred on August 25, 1989. Since this was the last major planet the spacecraft could visit, it was decided to make a close flyby of the moon Triton, regardless of the consequences to the trajectory, similarly to what was done for Voyager 1's encounter with Saturn and its moon Titan. The images relayed back to Earth from Voyager 2 became the basis of a 1989 PBS all-night program, Neptune All Night.[114] During the encounter, signals from the spacecraft required 246 minutes to reach the Earth. Hence, for the most part, the Voyager 2 mission relied on pre-loaded commands for the Neptune encounter. The spacecraft performed a near-encounter with the moon Nereid before it came within 4400 km of Neptune's atmosphere on August 25, then passed close to the planet's largest moon Triton later the same day.[115] The spacecraft verified the existence of a magnetic field surrounding the planet and discovered that the field was offset from the centre and tilted in a manner similar to the field around Uranus. The question of the planet's rotation period was settled using measurements of radio emissions. Voyager 2 also showed that Neptune had a surprisingly active weather system. Six new moons were discovered, and the planet was shown to have more than one ring.[47][115]

A Voyager 2 mosaic of Triton

In 2003, there was a proposal to NASA's "Vision Missions Studies" to implement a "Neptune Orbiter with Probes" mission that does Cassini-level science without fission-based electric power or propulsion. The work is being done in conjunction with JPL and the California Institute of Technology.[116]

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The mass of Uranus is 8.6810×1025 kg, giving a mass ratio of:

The mass of Jupiter is 1.8986×1027 kg, giving a mass ratio of:

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Further reading
• Baum, Richard; Sheehan, William (2003). In Search of Planet Vulcan: The Ghost in Newton's Clockwork Universe. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-7382-0889-3. • Burgess, Eric (1991). Far Encounter: The Neptune System. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-07412-4. • Cruikshank, Dale P. (1996). Neptune and Triton. University of Arizona Press. ISBN 978-0-8165-1525-7. • Elkins-Tanton, Linda T. (2006). Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and the Outer Solar System. New York: Chelsea House. ISBN 978-0-8160-5197-7. • Littmann, Mark (2004). Planets Beyond, Exploring the Outer Solar System. Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0-486-43602-9. • Miner, Ellis D.; Wessen, Randii R. (2002). Neptune: The Planet, Rings, and Satellites. Springer-Verlag. ISBN 978-1-85233-216-7. • Moore, Patrick (2000). The Data Book of Astronomy. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-7503-0620-1. • Standage, Tom (2001). The Neptune File. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-8027-1363-6.



External links
• NASA's Neptune fact sheet (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/neptunefact.html) • Neptune (http://www.nineplanets.org/neptune.html) from Bill Arnett's nineplanets.org • Neptune (http://www.astronomycast.com/astronomy/episode-63-neptune/) Astronomy Cast episode #63, includes full transcript. • Neptune Profile (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Neptune) at NASA's Solar System Exploration site (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov) • Planets – Neptune (http://www.projectshum.org/Planets/neptune.html) A children's guide to Neptune.

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Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors


Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors
File:Solar System size to scale.svg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Solar_System_size_to_scale.svg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Planets2008.jpg: Farry derivative work: Cmglee (talk) File:Oort cloud Sedna orbit.svg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Oort_cloud_Sedna_orbit.svg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Image courtesy of NASA / Jet Propulsion LaboratoryJPL-Caltech / Robert L. HurtR. Hurt Original text courtesy of NASA / Jet Propulsion LaboratoryJPL-Caltech SVG conversion by Holek Image:Ecliptic plane 3d view.gif  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ecliptic_plane_3d_view.gif  License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0  Contributors: User:Lookang Image:Solarsystem3DJupiter.gif  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Solarsystem3DJupiter.gif  License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0  Contributors: User:Lookang File:Venustransit 2004-06-08 07-49.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Venustransit_2004-06-08_07-49.jpg  License: GNU Free Documentation License  Contributors: de:Benutzer:Klingon File:Heliospheric-current-sheet.gif  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Heliospheric-current-sheet.gif  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Werner Heil (see "other version" below). File:Terrestrial planet size comparisons.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Terrestrial_planet_size_comparisons.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: wikipedia user Brian0918 File:InnerSolarSystem-en.png  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:InnerSolarSystem-en.png  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Original uploader was Mdf at en.wikipedia File:Gas giants in the solar system.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Gas_giants_in_the_solar_system.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA File:Comet c1995o1.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Comet_c1995o1.jpg  License: GNU Free Documentation License  Contributors: Miketsukunibito File:Outersolarsystem objectpositions labels comp.png  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Outersolarsystem_objectpositions_labels_comp.png  License: Free Art License  Contributors: 84user, Bassem, Kaldari, Peteforsyth, Poppy, Venkat.athma, Wikibob, WilyD, 5 anonymous edits File:EightTNOs.png  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:EightTNOs.png  License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported  Contributors: Lexicon File:IBEX all sky map.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:IBEX_all_sky_map.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio File:Kuiper oort.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Kuiper_oort.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA File:Milky Way Spiral Arm.svg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Milky_Way_Spiral_Arm.svg  License: GNU Free Documentation License  Contributors: Surachit File:Earth's Location in the Universe (JPEG).jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Earth's_Location_in_the_Universe_(JPEG).jpg  License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0  Contributors: Andrew Z. Colvin File:Magnify-clip.png  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Magnify-clip.png  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Erasoft24 File:Solar Life Cycle.svg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Solar_Life_Cycle.svg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Oliverbeatson File:TheSun.png  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:TheSun.png  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA File:Jupiter on 2010-06-07 (captured by the Hubble Space Telescope).jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jupiter_on_2010-06-07_(captured_by_the_Hubble_Space_Telescope).jpg  License: Public domain  Contributors: NASA, ESA, M.H. Wong (University of Califoria, Berkeley), H.B. Hammel (Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.), A.A. Simon-Miller (Goddard Space Flight Center), and the Jupiter Impact Science Team File:Saturn closeup.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Saturn_closeup.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Saturn_during_Equinox.jpg: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute derivative work: BullBoxerBAB (talk) File:Uranus2.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Uranus2.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/JPL/Voyager mission Original uploader was Serendipodous at en.wikipedia File:Neptune.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Neptune.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: . File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA. Photo taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans (of the Apollo 17 crew). File:Venus-real.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Venus-real.jpg  License: unknown  Contributors: NASA/Ricardo Nunes File:Mars Hubble.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Mars_Hubble.jpg  License: Public domain  Contributors: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) File:Ganymede g1 true 2.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ganymede_g1_true_2.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Original uploader was GeneralPatton at en.wikipedia File:Two Halves of Titan.png  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Two_Halves_of_Titan.png  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute File:Mercury in color - Prockter07 centered.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Mercury_in_color_-_Prockter07_centered.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington. Edited version of Image:Mercury in color - Prockter07.jpg by Papa Lima Whiskey. File:Callisto.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Callisto.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Bricktop, Conscious, Dbenbenn, J 1982, JenVan, Kristaga, Li-sung, Ruslik0, 1 anonymous edits File:Io highest resolution true color.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Io_highest_resolution_true_color.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Bricktop, David Levy, Foroa, Jed, Julia W, Kriplozoik, Pfctdayelise, Ruslik0, Uwe W., WikipediaMaster, 1 anonymous edits File:Full Moon Luc Viatour.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Full_Moon_Luc_Viatour.jpg  License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported  Contributors: Luc Viatour File:Europa-moon.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Europa-moon.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Dbenbenn, Li-sung, Ruslik0, Sobi3ch, Wikiborg4711, 2 anonymous edits File:Triton Voyager 2.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Triton_Voyager_2.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Rmhermen, Ruslik0 File:Titania (moon) color cropped.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Titania_(moon)_color_cropped.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Titania_(moon)_color.jpg: NASA/JPL derivative work: Ruslik (talk) File:PIA07763 Rhea full globe5.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:PIA07763_Rhea_full_globe5.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute File:Voyager 2 picture of Oberon.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Voyager_2_picture_of_Oberon.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA Original uploader was Looxix at en.wikipedia File:Iapetus as seen by the Cassini probe - 20071008.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Iapetus_as_seen_by_the_Cassini_probe_-_20071008.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute File:Umbriel moon 1.gif  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Umbriel_moon_1.gif  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA (Voyager) File:Ariel-NASA.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ariel-NASA.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Original uploader was Svdmolen at nl.wikipedia File:Dione (Mond) (30823363).jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Dione_(Mond)_(30823363).jpg  License: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0  Contributors: alan taylor from Hudson, MA, usa File:Inset-sat tethys-large.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Inset-sat_tethys-large.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA / JPL File:Dawn-image-070911.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Dawn-image-070911.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA File:Enceladus from Voyager.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Enceladus_from_Voyager.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/JPL/USGS File:Miranda.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Miranda.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: From de.wiki (NASA image) File:Proteus Voyager 2 croped.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Proteus_Voyager_2_croped.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Voyager 2, NASA

Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors
File:Mimas moon.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Mimas_moon.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA File:Hyperion in natural colours.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Hyperion_in_natural_colours.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Uwe W., 1 anonymous edits File:Phoebe cassini.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Phoebe_cassini.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute File:PIA12714 Janus crop.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:PIA12714_Janus_crop.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory / Space Science Institute File:Amalthea (moon).gif  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Amalthea_(moon).gif  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Giorgiomonteforti, Nolanus, Quadell, Ruslik0, Uwe W. File:PIA09813 Epimetheus S. polar region.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:PIA09813_Epimetheus_S._polar_region.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute File:Prometheus 12-26-09a.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Prometheus_12-26-09a.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute Image:Sun symbol.svg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sun_symbol.svg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Lexicon File:The_Sun_by_the_Atmospheric_Imaging_Assembly_of_NASA's_Solar_Dynamics_Observatory_-_20100819.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:The_Sun_by_the_Atmospheric_Imaging_Assembly_of_NASA's_Solar_Dynamics_Observatory_-_20100819.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/SDO (AIA). File:Sun - August 1, 2010.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sun_-_August_1,_2010.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/SDO/AIA File:Sun diagram.svg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sun_diagram.svg  License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0  Contributors: Pbroks13 File:Incandescent Sun.ogv  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Incandescent_Sun.ogv  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center File:Sun parts big.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sun_parts_big.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Project leader: Dr. Jim Lochner; Curator: Meredith Gibb; Responsible NASA Official:Phil Newman File:EffectiveTemperature 300dpi e.png  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:EffectiveTemperature_300dpi_e.png  License: GNU Free Documentation License  Contributors: Sch File:Solar eclipse 1999 4 NR.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Solar_eclipse_1999_4_NR.jpg  License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported  Contributors: Luc Viatour File:171879main LimbFlareJan12 lg.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:171879main_LimbFlareJan12_lg.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Hinode JAXA/NASA File:Solar-cycle-data.png  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Solar-cycle-data.png  License: unknown  Contributors: Beland, Dragons flight, F1jmm, Lampman, Lissajous, Mgc8, Nils Simon, WikipediaMaster, Xenoforme, Xiong Chiamiov, 4 anonymous edits File:Sunspot-number.png  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sunspot-number.png  License: GNU Free Documentation License  Contributors: Leland McInnes at en.wikipedia File:Solar evolution (English).svg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Solar_evolution_(English).svg  License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0  Contributors: User:RJHall File:Comparison sun seen from planets.svg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Comparison_sun_seen_from_planets.svg  License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0  Contributors: Nevermore4ever File:Actual Sunrise.jpeg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Actual_Sunrise.jpeg  License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0  Contributors: Pocketthis File:Actual Sunset.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Actual_Sunset.jpg  License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0  Contributors: Pocketthis File:Solar system barycenter.svg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Solar_system_barycenter.svg  License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0  Contributors: Solarsystembarycenter.gif: Carl Smith derivative work: Rubik-wuerfel (talk) File:Solvogn.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Solvogn.jpg  License: unknown  Contributors: Glenn, Kairios, Kersti Nebelsiek, Malene, Winterkind File:Observing The Sun.OGG  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Observing_The_Sun.OGG  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA File:Sun-bonatti.png  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sun-bonatti.png  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Smerdis of Tlön File:Sunspots and Solar Flares.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sunspots_and_Solar_Flares.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Dipankan001 File:The sun1.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:The_sun1.jpg  License: GNU Free Documentation License  Contributors: DrKiernan, Halfdan, HappyLogolover2011, Patricka, Sebman81, Tom, 2 anonymous edits File:Sunset over Leek.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sunset_over_Leek.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Saperaud Image:Speakerlink.svg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Speakerlink.svg  License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0  Contributors: Woodstone. Original uploader was Woodstone at en.wikipedia Image:Terrestrial planet size comparisons.jpg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Terrestrial_planet_size_comparisons.jpg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: wikipedia user Brian0918 Image:Mercury Internal Structure.svg  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Mercury_Internal_Structure.svg  License: GNU Free Documentation License  Contributors: Joel Holdsworth () File:CW0131775256F Kuiper Crater.png  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:CW0131775256F_Kuiper_Crater.png  License: Public Domain  Contributors: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Was