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The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.

Our Solar System

Our solar system is filled with a wide assortment of celestial bodies - the Sun itself, our eight planets, dwarf planets, and asteroids - and on Earth, life itself! The inner solar system is occasionally visited by comets that loop in from the outer reaches of the solar system on highly elliptical orbits. In the outer reaches of the solar system, we find the Kuiper Belt and the Oort cloud. Still farther out, we eventually reach the limits of the heliosphere, where the outer reaches of the solar system interact with interstellar space. Solar system formation began billions of years ago, when gases and dust began to come together to form the Sun, planets, and other bodies of the solar system.

A near-Earth <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/our_solar_system/asteroids.html">asteroid</a> - named 2012 DA14 by astronomers – passed within 17,200 miles from Earth on February 15, 2013. On closest approach at about 1:25 p.m. CST on February 15, although it was within the orbit of the <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/earth/moons_and_rings.html">Moon</a> and even geosynchronous <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/space_missions/satellites.html">satellites</a>, it didn't strike Earth!  Find out more from <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/asteroids/news/asteroid20130201315144.html">NASA</a>! Fragments of a meteorite hit Chelyabinsk, Russia on 2/15/2013 <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/15/us-russia-meteorite-idUSBRE91E05Z20130215">injuring over 500</a>. Learn about <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/our_solar_system/meteors/meteors.html">meteors and meteorites</a>.<p><small><em>NASA/JPL-CalTech</em></small></p>Neptune's <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/neptune/lower_atmosphere.html">atmosphere</a> shows
a striped pattern of
<a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/neptune/atmosphere/N_clouds_overview.html">clouds</a>.
This cloud pattern is very similar to that of
<a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/jupiter/jupiter.html">Jupiter</a> and
<a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/saturn/saturn.html">Saturn</a>.
Neptune even has a <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/neptune/atmosphere/N_clouds_GDS.html">Great Dark
Spot</a> similar
to Jupiter's <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/jupiter/atmosphere/J_clouds_GRS.html">Great
Red Spot</a>.
The Great Dark Spot of Neptune is thought to be a hole, similar to the hole
in the <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/earth/Atmosphere/ozone_layer.html">ozone layer on
Earth</a>,
in the <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/physical_science/chemistry/methane.html">methane</a> cloud
deck of Neptune.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA</em></small></p>Have you ever seen the <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/earth/Magnetosphere/aurora.html">Southern or Northern Lights</a>? Earth isn't the only planet that puts on these beautiful light shows, which are also called the "<a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/earth/Magnetosphere/aurora.html">aurora</a>". Aurora have been seen at both <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/saturn/saturn_polar_regions.html">poles of Saturn</a>, too, as well as at the poles of <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/jupiter/magnetosphere/jupiter_aurora.html">Jupiter</a>.  These "<a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/earth/Magnetosphere/tour/tour_earth_magnetosphere_09.html">curtains of light</a>" sometimes rise 1,200 miles (2,000 km) above the <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/saturn/atmosphere/S_clouds_overview.html">cloud tops</a> near Saturn's poles. The <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/space_missions/HST.html">Hubble Space Telescope</a> took this picture in 2004.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, J. Clarke (Boston University), and Z. Levay (STScI)</em></small></p>This historic image is the first ever taken from a spacecraft in orbit about <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/mercury/mercury.html">Mercury</a>, the innermost planet of the solar system.  Taken on 3/29/2011 by <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/space_missions/robotic/messenger/messenger.html">MESSENGER</a>, it shows numerous craters across the <a href="/php/tour_test_sqli.php?page=/mercury/Interior_Surface/Surface/surface_overview.html">surface</a> of the planet.  Temperatures there can reach over 800°F because Mercury is so close to the Sun and rotates so slowly.  MESSENGER entered orbit around Mercury earlier in March 2011.<p><small><em>NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington</em></small></p>New observations by the MESSENGER spacecraft provide  support for the hypothesis that Mercury harbors abundant water ice and other frozen volatile materials in its permanently shadowed (shown in red) polar craters. Areas where polar deposits of ice imaged by Earth-based radar are shown in yellow.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington/National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory</em></small></p>The spinning vortex of <a href="https://www.windows2universe.org/saturn/saturn.html">Saturn</a>'s north polar storm resembles a giant deep red rose surrounded by green foliage in this false-color <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/multimedia/pia14944.html">image</a> from NASA's <a href="https://www.windows2universe.org/missions/cassini.html">Cassini spacecraft</a>. The eye is 2,000 kilometers across with cloud speeds as fast as 150 meters per second.
It is not known how long this newly discovered north-polar <a href="https://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Atmosphere/hurricane/hurricane.html">hurricane</a> has been active.
The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 419,000 kilometers from Saturn.<p><small><em>NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI</em></small></p>

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF