Large and Small Table of Contents Further Away

3. The Solar System

Before we go back to the human size, let us enjoy for a while the immensity and the beauty of the universe around us. First the Solar System.

From left to right the Sun and its eight planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Size and distance are not to scale. Between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter there is an asteroid belt (not shown). The ninth planet, Pluto, has been disqualified in 2006, it now belongs to the so-called Kuiper belt. Must have been a shock for the astrologers...:-)

Let us start with our home planet, Earth and its companion, the Moon.
Both pictures have been taken during Apollo missions, and that explains why the Moon doesn't show its familiar face. It is the backside of the moon, permamently invisible from Earth.
The earth picture shows the continent of Africa, the cradle of mankind.
And lots, lots of water..:-)

The Sun is our ultimate source of energy for about 4.6 billion years already, and will continue to do so for another five billion years. The two small sunspots in the center are each about the size of the Earth! The solar flare picture, taken by the Japanese Hinode satellite, shows the cataclysmic processes at the sun's surface.

Venus and Mars are our closest planetary neighbors. While Venus is very inhospitable with an atmosphere consisting of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid clouds, Mars is considered by many as a planet where life might have existed in the past or even now. But no signs of organic life have been found yet. The beautiful Victoria crater on Mars has been visited by the Mars Rover Opportunity. Actually the Rover is visible, when you magnify the picture. Fascinating!

The four outer planets are gaseous and much larger than the "rocky" inner planets. The most conspicuous of them are Jupiter and Saturn. The famous "red spot" on Jupiter is a "hurricane" in its atmosphere,large enough to fit several earths and existing already for at least 300 years. The planet has a total of 63 confirmed moons, more than any other planet in the solar system. Saturn is of course well known for its rings.But it has also many moons. Two of them are visible in the picture, taken by the Voyager.

Four of Jupiter's moons are large, and have been discovered by Galileo in 1610 with one of the earliest telescopes. These celestial marbles deserve to be shown here separately. Their actual size is different, the pictures have been scaled. Ganymedes is the largest moon of the solar system, even larger than the planet Mercury. Io is the innermost of the four and subject to huge tidal friction, which makes it highly volcanic. Europa is covered with ice, the surface looks like a well-used skating rink. Underneath the ice there is a liquid ocean of 100 km deep, which might be suitable for life.





It would be easy to fill page after page with fascinating pictures of our solar system. But we must look further away, there is more to see. It takes "only" 4 hours for sunlight to reach Neptune, the outermost planet. The light of the nearest star, takes more than 4 YEARS to reach us.

Large and Small Table of Contents Further Away