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The Planets

  •  The Planets 

    Planets are large masses of matter that orbit around a star. Our solar system consists of eight planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, which are called inner or rocky planets, and Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, which are the outer planets, or gas giants.

    How were the planets formed? A After the gaseous cloud called the solar nebula collapsed upon itself due to the strength of its own gravity and formed the Sun, the dust and particles around it clumped together to form the planets. The heat of the Sun melted the ice particles nearby and eventually these rocks grew larger to form the four rocky planets. Some ice particles were too far away from the Sun to be melted. These ice pieces combined with gases to form the planets called the gas giants. Q What are the features of a rocky planet? A The rocky planets are made up of rocks and metals like iron and nickel. They are smaller than the gas giants but are very heavy. It is because of their weight that rocky planets rotate much slower than the gas giants. 12 Q What makes gas giants unique? A The gas giants are bigger in size but lighter, as they are mainly made up of gases and ice particles. In fact, Saturn is so light that it would float if placed in water! Gas giants also spin extremely quickly and they have rings around them. These planets do not have a hard surface. Jupiter and Saturn have a semi-liquid centre that is covered by a layer of liquid gas. Birth of planets The planets in our solar system were born when dust and particles around the Sun clumped together. Gas giants The four outer planets, the gas giants, are much larger than the Earth. Rocky planets Among the rocky planets, the Earth appears blue from outer space because over 70 per cent of its surface is covered with water.

    Quick Q’s: 1. How did the planets get their names? All the planets are named after Roman gods. Venus is named after the Roman goddess of love. The surface features of Venus are also named after various goddesses. For example the planet has a deep canyon named Diana, after the Roman goddess of hunting. 2. How many rings do Jupiter and Uranus have? Jupiter has three thin rings that cannot be seen even with the most powerful telescopes. Uranus has as many as 11 rings. 3. How many moons does Venus have? Apart from Mercury, Venus is the only other planet in the solar system that has no moon. 4. What about Pluto? Until recently, Pluto was the ninth planet in our solar system. But in 2006, it was officially reclassified as a dwarf planet, because it is so small and its gravitational field is not as strong as that of the major planets.