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Monday, February 21, 2011

Fun Facts on Planets

Venus is the brightest planet in our sky and can sometimes be seen with the naked eye if you know where to look. It is the solar system's brightest planet -- yellow clouds of sulfuric acid reflect the sun's light brightly.

Earth has more exposed water than land. Three quarters of the Earth is covered by water!

Mars is the home of "Olympus Mons", the largest volcano found in the solar system. It stands about 27 kilometers high with a crater 81 kilometers wide.

Between Mars and Jupiter, is a Dwarf Planet known as Ceres. It was discovered in 1801. It is the smallest dwarf planet discovered in our universe (so far) and is the only one found in the asteroid belt.

Jupiter is so big that you could fit all the other planets in the solar system inside it. The red spot of Jupiter is the biggest, most violent storm in the known universe -- that spot is at least three times the size of earth!

Saturn is the second biggest planet, but it’s also the lightest planet. If there was a bathtub big enough to hold Saturn, it would float in the water!

The ring that surrounds Saturn could be the remnants of a moon that was shattered by Saturn's gravity.

Uranus’ axis is at a 97 degree angle, meaning that it orbits lying on its side! Talk about a lazy planet.

Neptune was discovered in 1846 (over 150 years ago). Since that time it has still yet to make a complete orbit around the sun, because one Neptune year lasts 165 Earth years!

Like Jupiter, Neptune has a dark spot caused by a storm. Neptune's spot is smaller than Jupiter's -- it is only about the size of the planet earth.

Pluto’s orbit sometimes brings it closer to the Sun than Neptune. It jumped ahead of Neptune on September 5, 1989 and remained there until February, 1999 when it went back to being the farthest.

Pluto is no longer considered a planet -- instead, astronomers call it a dwarf planet or planetoid. Whatever the name, our solar system isn't the neat model we once thought it was. It takes a bit for grown-ups (like me!) to adapt to the changes in our understanding

In January 2005, astronomers in the United States discovered a new body orbiting the sun in our solar system. They named this planetoid, Eris after the Greek goddess of strife.

Eris takes approximately 550 earth years to orbit the sun. The majority of the time, it is further from the sun than Pluto, but for a short time, it is closer.

Eris is actually larger than Pluto (it is the ninth largest object orbitting our sun discovered so far!)

Makemake and Haumea are dwarf planets just like Pluto, but a little further out in our solar system. Because their orbits are not perfect circles, they trade places in terms of which is closer and which is further from the sun.

Haumea has a squished egg shape -- thought to be the result of a collision from an asteroid or meteor at some time.

In 2004, astronomers in universities in the United States discovered a new body orbiting the sun in our solar system. They named this planetoid, Sedna after the Inuit goddess of the Ocean. This is the furthest orbiting body identified in our solar system to date.

Sedna is about three times further from our sun than Pluto. It takes between 10,500 and 12,000 earth years for Sedna to make one orbit around the sun.