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Solar System

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SOLAR SYSTEM The solar system is the collection of planets, satellites, asteroids, comets, and cosmic dust particles that are mostly in elliptical, coplanar orbits around the Sun. The total mass of the solar system is around 450 times the mass of the Earth and about 1/750 of the mass of the Sun. About three-quarters of that mass is concentrated in the gaseous giant planet Jupiter. Cosmogony, the study of the origin of planets, indicates that the cloud of gas and dust that condensed to form the solar system must have had a mass a few hundred times greater than that of the present system. The planets formed about 4.6 billion years ago and in the early days suffered a great deal from bombardment by asteroids. The rate of these collisions has decreased by about 2,000 times since then. The surface temperature of the planets decreases roughly as the inverse square root of their distance from the Sun. The inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars have a rock and metal composition, low relative mass, and few satellites. ...read more.


In a small telescope it shows phases like those of the Moon, due to its varying position relative to the Earth and Sun. Very occasionally, the Earth, Mercury, and the Sun line up precisely and the planet is then seen to transit the Sun as a small dark spot crossing the solar disc. This last occurred on 12 November 1986 and will occur again on 14 November 1999. Observations of faint dusky markings seen on Mercury through large telescopes around 1900 led astronomers to conclude that the planet rotated on its axis and revolved round the Sun at the same 88-day rate, keeping the same face pointing sunwards. After being accepted for eighty years, the 88-day rotation period was finally replaced by the correct 58.5-day period deduced from radar observations. Mercury is 4,878 km in diameter, midway in size between Mars and the Moon and its daytime surface is baked by the proximity of the Sun. The midday equatorial temperature varies, due to the elliptical orbit, from 415 oC at the closest point to the Sun to 285 oC at the farthest. ...read more.


The clouds closely resemble natural terrestrial fogs or industrial smogs and are composed of sulphuric, hydrochloric, and hydrofluoric acid droplets. The atmosphere is extremely dense and hot, made up of over 90 per cent carbon dioxide. The surface pressure is 91 times that of the Earth and the global surface temperature is kept permanently at about 475 oC by the greenhouse effect. The solid globe, with a mean density of 5,240 kg/m3, is 12,104 km in diameter and rotates slowly from east to west, that is, in a retrograde manner, with a period of 243 days so that its day is longer than its year. The Soviet spacecraft Venera 9 and 10 gave the first glimpses of the surface in 1975. Both spacecraft soft-landed and returned panoramic photographs showing hot stony desert landscapes scattered with rocks of all sizes. Recent radar studies suggest that this is typical of the whole planet and show that Venus has a cratered surface. Radar maps reveal two high continent-sized areas, Ishtar Terra and Aphrodite Terra, and a very high mountain feature, Maxwell Montes. There is also evidence for the presence of long canyons and volcanoes, though these seem to be inactive at present. Venus has no natural satellites. ...read more.

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