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9 Amazing Facts About the Solar System You Might Not Know

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26 February, 2023

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Our solar system is our home, and we have been studying it since we were kids. However, if you think you’ve learned everything there is to learn about the solar system, then think again. Here are some things you might not know about our solar system.

The Solar System is simultaneously old and young 

Our solar system was believed to have formed some 4.6 billion years ago. That’s old, especially considering that modern humans (Homo sapiens) have already been walking the Earth for around 200,000 years. 

However, compared to the rest of the universe (estimated to be 13.7 billion years old), the solar system is like a new kid on the block, not even half as old as the universe. 

Courtesy of Pixabay

Sol, our sun and the center of our star system, is both super large and super heavy

Our sun, Sol, is so dense and packed that it accounts for 99.8 percent of the solar system’s total mass. At the same time, Sol is also so massive that if you try to circle it using the world’s fastest planes, scientists estimate it would still take 206 days without stopping. 

Our solar system has other dwarf planets aside from Pluto

For some people, the term dwarf planet only became popular when Pluto was reclassified as one in 2006 – after it failed to meet the requirements to be considered a major planet. However, Pluto is not the first nor the only dwarf planet around. 

There were already four before Pluto made the list and became the fifth. Then, in 2015, another dwarf planet, nicknamed “The Goblin,” was discovered, increasing the number of known dwarf planets to six.

Pluto is not the end of the solar system

Because of how the planets were presented back in school, most people think Pluto (despite being a dwarf planet now) is already at the solar system’s edge. This isn’t the case. 

The solar system extends way beyond Pluto. Scientists even speculate that a bubble of icy debris borders the solar system’s edge, even though they still haven’t discovered it. They call it Oort Cloud.

The planets are orbiting the sun in the same direction and on the same “plane”

All eight major planets, from Mercury to Neptune, orbit the sun in the same direction (although at different speeds). They also seem to be lying on the same plane and not scattered randomly. 

This is one of the most significant proofs supporting the theory that the solar system was formed from a swirling dust cloud that happened to condense and spin. 

Courtesy of Philippe Donn

The solar system is not alone in the Milky Way galaxy

There are around 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone. Our sun, Sol, is just one of them. However, not all stars have planets orbiting them. 

Of the 200 billion stars visible to our telescopes, scientists have only discovered 3,200 stars with planets orbiting them. Unfortunately, these star systems are too far to investigate or check for life. But who knows?

The whole solar system is moving

When the geocentric theory was disproved and then replaced by the heliocentric theory, it became common knowledge that the sun was at the center of the solar system and everything else revolved around it. 

However, because of this, people thought the sun was staying at a fixed point in space. That’s not the case. Not only is the sun orbiting the center of the Milky Way galaxy (at 230 km/s), but the whole Milky Way galaxy itself is hurtling towards a neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, at 400,000 km/hr. 

The solar system is 20 galactic years old

The time it takes for the sun to completely orbit the center of the Milky Way galaxy is around 230 million Earth years. This is also called one galactic year. 

If time is measured using galactic years, the sun (and the solar system) would be around 20 years old. The Earth would be about 16 years old, while the universe would be roughly around 60 years old. 

Courtesy of Pixabay

The solar system is halfway through its life cycle

Based on the size and age of the sun, scientists estimate that the solar system (4.6 billion years old) is already approaching half of its expected lifespan. 

As the sun continues to spend its remaining fuel to make energy, more extensive and heavier materials are formed, eventually causing the sun to expand and become a giant. When this happens, the sun’s diameter will be so big that it will swallow up the inner planets, including Earth. 

Changes in size will cause disruptions in a gravitational balance, causing the other planets to get sucked in or thrown off their orbits. There won’t be a system left anymore. Fortunately, scientists believe it will take another 5 billion years before this event occurs.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Solar System

How was the solar system formed?

The solar system was believed to have come from a swirling dust cloud that eventually condensed and continued spinning some 4.6 billion years ago. The most significant mass formed was the sun, while the rest of the other chunks slowly came together to form the planets and their moons. Other debris that failed to assemble into large formations became asteroids.

How do we study the planets in the solar system?

Scientists have been launching several missions into space since the 1960s to gather information on other planets and the solar system. The US, Russia, Japan, and other countries have sent their exploratory probes, some of which failed, while others are still operational. 

The Voyager program, for example, was initially sent to space to explore Jupiter and the outer planets, but the probes are now making their way past Neptune and then to the boundary into interstellar space. It is still gathering more data and sending them to Earth until now.

Scientists on the ground are also using various electromagnetic waves to detect, study, and speculate about the celestial structures in our solar system. They use a bunch of telescopes, transmitters, and other advanced technology to conduct measurements and calculations without launching into space. 

Why do we call our planetary system the solar system?

Our star, named “Sol” (Latin for sun), is the center of our planetary system. The term solar is used because the center of the solar system is the sun.

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