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What Makes Up Our Solar System? Planets

By Yona Williams    6/20/11

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There is more to our Solar System than just the sun and planets. Although you can't see it when you look up in the sky, there are plenty of other components that come to life when you use a telescope or become an astronomer. In this article, you will learn more about what makes up our solar system.

Besides the sun and planets, our Solar System is comprised of dwarf planets (also referred to as plutoids), moons, an asteroid belt, comets, meteors, and other objects. At the center of our solar system, you will find the sun. There are more than 61 different moons associated with the planets. Orbiting the Sun, there are asteroids, comets, meteoroids, and other rocks and gas.

The Planets

If you learned about the planets in elementary school, chances are that you were introduced to nine. However, the farthest from the Sun (Pluto) was demoted from planet to the second most massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System – beaten only by Eris. Although Pluto is the tenth most massive body that has been observed directly orbiting the Sun, astronomers took into consideration recent discoveries to recategorize the former planet.

The largest planet in our Solar System is Jupiter, which is the fifth positioned planet from the Sun. The planets orbit the sun in the following order: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Pluto the dwarf planet is the farthest out. Saturn is often recognizable out of the other planets because it has large, orbiting rings. Mars is generally referred to as the 'red planet' because of its color.

A belt of asteroids orbits between Mars and Jupiter, which is where minor planets made of rock and metal are found. While lying in the same plane, all the objects orbit the sun in a circular pattern. The planets that orbit close to the Sun are called the 'inner planets'. These include the relatively small planets of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. They share characteristics, such as being mostly comprised of rock, and have few or no moons. The 'outer planets' include Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. They are much larger in size and possess many moons. They have rings and are mostly gaseous.

An Ancient Connection to Planets

The Babylonians (who lived in Mesopotamia during the 1st and 2nd millennia BC) became the first civilization to create a realistic theory regarding the planets. The oldest surviving planetary astronomical text belongs to the Babylonians – called the Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa. Dating back to the 7th century BC, there is a copy that lists observations of the motions of the planet Venus. Some of the observations most likely date back as early as 2nd millennium BC.

Thanks to Babylonian astrologers, the basic building bricks of Western astrology were also laid down. Another text paired omens with their connection to phenomena that involved the motions of the planets. After the Babylonians, the Sumerians played an important role in the advancement of astronomy. This civilization became the first group of people to "invent" writing. They were responsible for identifying Venus and other planets, such as Mercury, Mars, and additional outer planets.

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