The solar system consists of the Sun, nine planets and their moons, as well as many other non-stellar objects. It formed 4.6 billion years ago from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud.
The four planets closest to the Sun – Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars – are terrestrial, meaning their densities are similar to those of our own. The rest – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – are gas giants.
The biggest planet in the solar system, Jupiter is a gas giant with a dense atmosphere. It has a ring and four large moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
The fast rotation of the gas giant, which rotates once on its axis every 10 hours, creates jet streams that separate its clouds into dark belts and bright zones across long stretches.
Scientists think that these bands of colors are plumes of sulfur and phosphorus-containing gases rising from the planet’s warmer interior, extending upward from the clouds.
Researchers hope that these images will help them to better understand how gases and heat move throughout the giant planet.
The new space images come courtesy of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which trained its lens on our planet closer to home for the first time. The images reveal shining auroras, swirling clouds and raging storms on Jupiter, allowing scientists to peer into its complex interior.
Saturn is a gas giant planet that sits in the outer part of our solar system. It has a thick atmosphere with high pressures and icy surface features.
Its ring system is the largest and most complex in our solar system. Its rings are made up of three main bands, dubbed the A, B and C-rings.
The inner ring, known as the F-ring, is knotted or braided, a strange feature that wasn’t detected until the Voyager spacecraft explored Saturn in 1980 and 1981.
As with Jupiter, Saturn’s atmosphere is dominated by a strong east-west flow that creates light-coloured cloud bands. These bands vary over time and look like a complex of small-scale red, brown and white spots, bands, eddies and vortices.
A rare storm is seen near the equator in this image taken by Hubble. It’s a white arrowhead-shaped feature with an east-west extent of equal to the planet’s diameter.
Uranus is one of the most interesting and mysterious planets in the solar system. Its axis is tilted by 60 degrees with respect to the plane of its rotation and it does not have a magnetic field centered on its center of mass, as do most other planets in our solar system.
This unusual position is believed to be the result of a collision with a smaller object early in the solar system’s history. Its lopsided magnetic field also causes its day-night cycle to be reversed.
The atmosphere of Uranus is made up mainly of hydrogen and helium. Astronomers have calculated that the ratio of helium to hydrogen is about 15 percent, which matches the value of helium in the Sun.
Uranus is surrounded by a dark ring system that extends from its south pole to its north pole and consists of several small satellites. Most of these were discovered by Voyager 2, though astronomers have found another 12 outer irregular moons that were not imaged by Voyager 2.
Pluto is one of the largest and most remote objects in our solar system. It’s two-thirds the size of Earth’s Moon and 1200 times farther away, making it difficult to view from Earth.
It also takes up a significant part of our solar system’s Kuiper Belt, the region of debris and frozen remnants of planetary systems that may have once formed in the outer reaches of our solar system. But unlike the other Kuiper Belt planets, Pluto doesn’t have a companion planet.
It does, however, have several moons, most notably Charon, the largest, whose diameter is just over half that of Pluto. The Pluto-Charon system is sometimes considered a binary system, because the barycenter of their orbits does not lie within either body.