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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
This is an image of the solar system.
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Solar System Formation

Scientists believe that the solar system was for med when a cloud of gas and dust in space was disturbed, maybe by the supernova of a nearby star. Shock waves from the explosion compressed the cloud of gas and dust. Compression made the cloud collapse, as gravity pulled the gas and dust together, forming a solar nebula. Just like a dancer that spins faster as she pulls in her arms, the cloud began to spin as it collapsed. Eventually, the cloud grew hotter and denser in the center, with a disk of gas and dust surrounding it that was hot in the center but cool at the edges. As the disk got thinner and thinner, particles began to stick together and form clumps. Some clumps got bigger, as particles and small clumps stuck to them, eventually forming planets or moons . Near the center of the cloud, where planets like Earth formed, only rocky material could stand the great heat. Icy matter settled in the outer regions of the disk, where the giant planets like Jupiter formed. As the cloud continued to fall in, the center eventually got so hot that nuclear fusion was initiated, and it became a star. When the Sun first "turned on" it blew most of the gas and dust of the new solar system with a strong stellar wind. This phase in the evolution of the Sun is called the T-Tauri phase. By studying meteorites, which are thought to be left over from this early phase of the solar system, scientists have found that the solar system is about 4600 million years old.


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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA