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⇀Astronomy 1021↼

Chapter 6: The Formation of the Solar System

➣Solar System and Telescopes:

• All three techniques used in study of Solar System:
– imaging
– spectroscopy
– timing
• Major focus in last year or so
– asteroids
– comets
– Kuiper Belt objects
– Moon
– Mars

➣Measuring Distances:
• Kepler gave us relative distances
• Transit of Venus helped give absolute distances
• Today use spacecraft data and radar

➣Measuring Sizes:
• Telescopes: can measure the angular diameter of planets
• With distance (from previous slide) and angular size we can know the actual size of planets

➣Measuring Masses:
• Observe moons going around planet
• Measure angular distances, orbits and periods
• Mass and radius  average density
↳ Note that Saturn would float in water!

• Can get closer
• Bring back samples?
• Take a long time to build, launch, travel
• Very expensive

➣Telescopes vs Spacecraft:
Telescopes: • A flyby spacecraft mission comes close to a planet just
• Hampered by location once
• Cheaper, can be used long- • Cheaper than parking a spacecraft in orbit but don’t get as
term and upgraded much data
• Lots of new objects still to
find ➣Orbiters:
• Can study many objects • Spacecraft that go into orbit around worlds
• More time to gather data but cannot obtain detailed information about world’s surface
➣Probes and Landers:
• Land of the surface of other worlds: brake, fall, bounce, open, explore

➣Sample Return Missions:

Not only land on the surface of another world but bring back samples
• Moon (automated and human missions – first by Apollo 11)
• Comet Wild 2 by Stardust spacecraft
• Asteroid 25143 Itokawa by Hayabusa spacecraft
• Phobos (Russian and Japan)

➣Solar System: Sun and a Tiny Bit of “Stuff”:

• 8 planets
• 170+ known moons
• 5(+?) dwarf planets
• billions of smaller bodies

• Sun is the size of a large grapefruit (14 cm)
• Earth is the size of a ball point, 15 metres away
• Solar System is almost entirely made of nearly empty space(!)
↳ We would need to cross the river to see the entire solar system
↳ To get to the nearest star we would need to cross the country

➣Four Features of the Solar System:

1. Patterns of motion among large bodies: Sun, planets and moons orbit and rotate in
organized way
• Planetary orbits
– nearly circular
– lie nearly in the same plane
• Counterclockwise as viewed from above the Earth’s north pole
– All planets orbit the Sun
– Most planets (and the Sun) rotate in the same direction on their axis (with fairly small
axial tilts)
– Most of the Solar System’s large moons orbit around their planets
2. Two major types of planets: terrestrial /
Sun: • Not unlike the Moon
• H and He • Bit bigger than Moon
• >99% of mass • Past geological activity
• Flares and coronal mass ejections • Metal and rock
• 5800 K at photosphere • Very dense
• Pressure and temperature increase with depth • Extreme temperature changes: 425°C (day) to
• 4 million tons of mass into energy per second 170°C (night)
• MESSENGER de orbited in Apr 2015
Jovian • Tidally locked in 3:2 resonance (rotation: orbit)
Venus: Earth:
• Nearly identical in size to Earth • Surface liquid water (and life)
• Surface hidden by clouds (top) • Ocean’s cover three quarters of surface
• Revealed by Magellan (bottom) • Polar caps of water ice
• Opposite rotation • Atmosphere has oxygen (breathe) and ozone
• Thick atmosphere (protection)
• Mostly carbon dioxide • Some greenhouse effect is essential
• Lightning and sulphuric acid rain • Surprisingly large
• Greenhouse effect: 470°C Moon relative to Earth
Radio Activity:
• Cannot date planets, but can date rocks
• Meteorites are good for this

Mars: Terrestrial Planets:

• Frozen desert • Four inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth
• Giant volcanoes, huge canyons, polar caps and Mars)
• Water flowed in distant path • Rocky with metallic cores
• Subsurface water discovered last year • Comparable in size and densities
• Two moons (captured asteroids) • May or may not have atmospheres and
• Atmosphere mostly carbon dioxide moons
• Higher density than Jovian
• Some isotopes decay into other nuclei
• A half-life is the time for half the nuclei in a substance to decay

Jovian Planets: Jupiter:

• Named after Jupiter, the biggest • Most massive
planet • H and He
• No surface; huge atmosphere • Visible: upper layers of atmosphere
• Lots of moons • Faint ring system
• Lower density than terrestrial • Many moons

• An ice giant
• Smaller than Neptune:
Jupiter/Saturn, • Twin of Uranus except colder, bluer, and less
Galilean Moons: Saturn:
axial tilt
H and
Galilean moons • Giant and gaseous like Jupiter
• Colours from • Only explored
– Io: Active volcanoes all over • Spectacular rings:
hydrogen by Voyager 2
– Europa: Possible sub-surface • Ring flybymoons
compounds: • Many
ocean • Many moons (famous: Titan, Enceladus,
• Triton
– H O
– Ganymede:
2 Largest moon in Mimas) • Bigger than Pluto
Solar System
– ammonia NH3 • Retrograde motion
– Callisto: A large, cratered “ice ball”
– methane CH4 • Geysers
• Extreme axial tilt causes long seasons
• Faint rings and lots of moons
• Only explored by Voyager 2
3. Asteroids and comets: location, orbits and compositions of these objects follow distinct

Small Bodies: Pluto:

• Pluto and dwarf planets (5 in total) • Pluto (and other dwarf planets) are icy and
• Asteroids much smaller than the major planets
• Comets • Pluto’s main moon (Charon) more than half
the size of Pluto!
➣Asteroid Locations:
Three main locations:
• Asteroid belt (most asteroids)
• Trojans
• Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs)
– 15000 known

Dwarf Planets: Asteroids:

• Currently five • Irregularly shaped small bodies mainly made of
• These are objects that are massive enough rock
to be rounded by their own gravity • Mostly in “main belt” between Mars/Jupiter
• Not the most dominant object in their orbit: • Dust specks to dwarf planet sizes
Makemake, Eris, Haumea, Ceres, Pluto
– 1000 larger than 1km

➣Heavy-Bombardment Period:
• Few hundred million years after Solar System formation
• Many asteroids collide with terrestrial planets
• Lunar rock sample dating
• “Nice model” suggests giant planet migration
• Water to Earth?

• Farther out than asteroids
• “Dirty snowballs”: ices mixed with rock
• Short-period comets
• Orbit in same direction
and plane as planets
• Originate from Kuiper Belt
• Long-period comets
• Random orbits
• Originate from Oort Cloud

4. Exceptions to the rules – e.g., sideways tilt of Uranus, retrograde rotation of Venus, Earth
having a large moon

➣Nebular Theory: Explaining the Features:

• Nebular hypothesis (Immanuel Kant in 1755 and later by Pierre-Simon Laplace)
• The Solar System was formed from the gravitational collapse of an interstellar cloud of gas
and dust – the solar nebula
• Support
– Stars forming in other interstellar gas clouds
– Computer simulations predict same behaviour