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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.

Neptune's <a href="/neptune/lower_atmosphere.html">atmosphere</a> shows
a striped pattern of
<a href="/neptune/atmosphere/N_clouds_overview.html">clouds</a>.
This cloud pattern is very similar to that of
<a href="/jupiter/jupiter.html">Jupiter</a> and
<a href="/saturn/saturn.html">Saturn</a>.
Neptune even has a <a href="/neptune/atmosphere/N_clouds_GDS.html">Great Dark
Spot</a> similar
to Jupiter's <a href="/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="/earth/Atmosphere/ozone_layer.html">ozone layer on
Earth</a>,
in the <a href="/physical_science/chemistry/methane.html">methane</a> cloud
deck of Neptune.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA</em></small></p>This dramatic view of Jupiter's <a href="/jupiter/atmosphere/J_clouds_GRS.html">Great Red Spot</a> and its surroundings was obtained by <a href="/space_missions/voyager.html">Voyager 1</a> on Feb. 25, 1979, when the spacecraft was 5.7 million miles (9.2 million kilometers) from Jupiter. Cloud details as small as 100 miles (160 kilometers) across can be seen here. The colorful, wavy cloud pattern to the left of the Red Spot is a region of extraordinarily complex end variable wave motion.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA</em></small></p>Have you ever seen the <a href="/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="/earth/Magnetosphere/aurora.html">aurora</a>". Aurora have been seen at both <a href="/saturn/saturn_polar_regions.html">poles of Saturn</a>, too, as well as at the poles of <a href="/jupiter/magnetosphere/jupiter_aurora.html">Jupiter</a>.  These "<a href="/earth/Magnetosphere/tour/tour_earth_magnetosphere_09.html">curtains of light</a>" sometimes rise 1,200 miles (2,000 km) above the <a href="/saturn/atmosphere/S_clouds_overview.html">cloud tops</a> near Saturn's poles. The <a href="/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="/mercury/mercury.html">Mercury</a>, the innermost planet of the solar system.  Taken on 3/29/2011 by <a href="/space_missions/robotic/messenger/messenger.html">MESSENGER</a>, it shows numerous craters across the <a href="/mercury/Interior_Surface/Surface/surface_overview.html">surface</a> of the planet.  Temperatures there can reach over 800F 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>Lunar eclipses are special events that only occur when certain conditions are met. First of all, the Moon must be in <a href="/the_universe/uts/moon3.html">full phase</a>. Secondly, the <a href="/sun/sun.html">Sun</a>, <a href="/earth/earth.html">Earth</a> and <a href="/earth/moons_and_rings.html">Moon</a> must be in a perfectly straight line. If both of these are met, then the Earth's shadow can block the Sun's light from hitting the Moon.  The reddish glow of the Moon is caused by light from the Earth's limb scattering toward the Moon, which is reflected back to us from the Moon's surface.<p><small><em>Image credit - Doug Murray, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida</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>

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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