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How we study understand the solar system ?

Traditional Methods:
(i) Ground Based Observations – Naked Eye, Telescope
(ii) Space Based Telescope ( e.g. Hubble)
(iii) Satellites
(iv) Earth Based Radar
(v) Theoretical/ Numerical studies

Advanced: Space Missions to Planets (fly by, orbiter, lander)

Observations of Target: Imaging in different Frequency, etc.

Return Sample and Manned: Apollo and Luna Programs

Samples from Outer Space: Fragments from Asteroids, Moon and Mars
Broken debris from violent impacts are hurled into space and transported and
caught in the gravitational field of the Earth.

Studied in Detail: Physical, Chemical, Isotopic and Modeling of such Properties


Object/Body at the Center of the Solar System : Star

Ordinary Common Place Star: Low Mass

One of the ~ 109 stars in the galaxy (Milky Way).

1. 99.9% of the mass of the Solar system is in the Sun

2. Formation of planets is by-product of the formation of the Sun.
3. Consists of hot fluid material – Dominated by H and He.
4. Surface Temperature ~ 5700 K.

What happens inside the Sun:

Temperature and Density Increases ( Density ~ 160g/cm3 and T ~ 15x106K)
Nuclear Fusion Occurs under these conditions – which generates Energy
(4 H Atoms are Converted into 1 He Atom)

Since H is being used in the center composition of the center is changing.

The Sun is ~ 4.5 Billion Years (Ga) old = 4.5x109 years.

Very steady in its Energy Output – How do we know this ?

Indirect Evidence: The Earth has had life for nearly ~ 3.5 Ga
Life which requires liquid water on the surface.

The Sun had to hold the temperature of the Earth within a narrow margin
So that water neither freezes or boils.

Will it continue like this forever ? NO

After ~ 4Ga the Sun will run of sufficient H in the core to generate energy. At this
stage it may go through a violent phase of very high temperature at the surface and

This will engulf Mercury and Venus and incinerate everything on the Earth’s

It will loose a lot of mass through catastrophic events and cool down to a dwarf

Eight of the objects that orbit the Sun are designated as Planets.

They fall into two groups:

The inner four: rocky planets ( Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars)
Density ~ 3.9 -5.4 g/cm3

The outer four: gaseous planets/ giant planets ( Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and
Uranus) Much Larger than the Earth, Density ~ 0.7-1.6g/cm3

Why do Giant Planets have such low densities ?

They have a fundamentally different composition than the Earth. They are made of
up of volatile elements H, He, O, C, N and S and contain relatively little rock forming
elements like Si, Mg, Fe, Ca, Al etc. which are more abundant in Earth like planets.

The Giant Planets could have a core of rock and ice but a major portion of their
mass is due to the fluid material.

Pluto : It is a very small body ~1200 km in radius Mercury ~ 2439km.

Although it is physically close to the giant planets it is compositionally different. It

does not have fluid material but is has more solid surface.

Asteroids: A large population of small rocky bodies most of which orbit between
Mars and Jupiter. Typical size ~ few kms to 10×kms.

Comet Nuclei: Location is different - beyond Pluto, composition: different from

asteroids. Spend most of their time outside the inner solar system.

Composition: ices and frozen gas. Why ?

Far away – less sunlight ?

Planetary Orbits:
The orbits of the planets are not circular but elliptical.
What is an ellipse ?

Ellipse has two geometrically unique points. - Foci ( Plural of focus).

Ellipse has a semi-major axis (a) and semi-minor axis (b).

The semi major axis is used to define the mean distance of the planet from the Sun.

The mean distance of the Earth is = 1.496x108 km = 1A.U.

Planetary Orbits are Nested with the Sun at the Center.

What governs the motion of the Planets around the Sun ?

Laws of Motion – What about it ?

P = ( 4π 2a3/GM)1/2 M = Mass of Sun = 1.99x1030 kg
A= semi-major axis, G= Universal Gravitational Constant = 6.668x10-11 m3/kg sec2
Orbits with this is relationship between rotation time and mean radial distance are
called Keplerian Orbit.
The Solar Nebula:
Orbits of the planets lie nearly in the same plane.
The Solar Ecliptic Plane is defined as the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
The tilts or inclinations of other orbits are measured relative to this plane.

Most planetary orbits have a tilt of a few degrees. Except Pluto and Mercury ( i = 17.1o
and 7.0o)

All planets revolve in a counter clock wise direction viewed from the North side of the
Ecliptic. This direction is called prograde. The opposite direction of rotation is called

The present orderly arrangement of the planets is a product of how the Solar System

As the Sun formed it perhaps accreted material in flat disc around itself called the solar
nebula. Planets formed from material in the nebula. The orbital arrangement of the
planets is a memory effect of the material in the nebula and the disc like structure.

The solar nebula is not just a theoretical idea: Discs have been observed around newly
forming stars.
Before The Solar System
Astronomical studies have shown that new stars are constantly being created in the

What is the source material for stars from which they form ?

Dense clouds of gas and dust in the interstellar medium. The composition of the ISM
influences the composition of the stars and planets (if any).

What is the chemical composition of the ISM ?

H, He most abundant
1000 x less abundant C, N and O
10,000 x less abundant rock forming elements; Si, Ca, Mg etc.

This elemental composition is nearly uniform in the galaxy. Nuclear reactions in stars are
constantly building up heavier elements through fusion of lighter elements. Stars recycle
this material. How ? By feeding the ISM with their products. This is again recycled back
into newly forming stars
Before The Solar System
In the beginning when stars formed they had very little material other than H and

This is the major product of the Big Bang when the Universe started. That was ~
15Ga ago.

The age of the solar system is only ~ 4.6 Ga.

Therefore the ISM material from which solar system formed had been processed for
~ 10Ga.
Formation of The Solar System
Interstellar gas dust from which stars form sometimes have a dense core. It is from
these cores that stars form.

These cores can sometimes become gravitationally unstable and this can pull itself
together to form a much more denser region in the center This is the birth of a
proto-star. Most of the material that collapses does not head straight away into the
core but settles in the form of a disc.

The central dense core – proto-stellar object or proto-star and the disk –
proto-stellar disk.

The collapse that forms the star is rapid happening in less than 0.5Ma.

A significant fraction of the disc feeds into the core. After the collapse has come to
end where most of the mass has been gathered by the protostar. A thin residual
disk remains for nearly ~ 10 Ma after which the disk is dissipated. This is how
perhaps our Sun formed.
Formation of Protoplanets and Planets
The dust (size ~ 1 micron) and gas in the disk can form small clumps. Dust clumps
can be processed thermally to form even droplets. These can then accrete to form
protoplanets. Size ~ meters to several 10x kms.

How do we know this what may have happened ?

We know this from the certain groups of meteorites that fall on the Earth. These are
called chondrites.

Protostellar disks are hot close to the Sun and cool father away. Therefore this
influences the chemical composition of material accreting near and far away from
the Sun.

Bigger planets simply form by accretion of small bodies. When one of these objects
“luckily” becomes very big it gravitationally captures the smaller object. These
ideas have been explored by computer simulations.

The process of formation of planets was completed in less than < 30 Ma.
How do we know this ? From isotopic data obtained from meteorites, Earth, Mars
and Moon.
Loss of Disk and Extra Solar Planets
The Sun is an ordinary star and there are many such stars in the galaxy – we can
expect to see many stars with planetary systems.

What happened to the disk ? It is not there any more.

Astronomical observations suggest that lifetime of a disc is around ~ 10 Ma.

What happens to the disk ?

The Sun goes through a very violent phase in its early evolution – during this
period it throws out intense energy and also particles. This outburst of energy can
ionize the material in the disc and the ejection of intense solar wind may have
swept away the material in the disc.
Heat in the Planets

What keeps the Earth alive as a planetary body?

1. Volcanoes, Earthquakes
2. There is an internal source of energy which heats up the interior and churns it
(slowly). This causes the outer layer of the Earth which is fitted like a jigsaw
puzzle to move round.
3. This throws up gases from the interior into the atmosphere.

What are the sources of heat ?

Radioactive heat in case of Earth-like planets and Contraction in case of Giant

Chronology of the Solar System