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A montage of eight of the nine planets and Earth's moon. Pluto is not shown.
A solar system family portrait assembled from NASA spacecraft images. Not pictured: Pluto.
Our Solar System:

From our small world we have gazed upon the cosmic ocean for thousands of years. Ancient astronomers observed points of light that appeared to move among the stars. They called these objects planets, meaning wanderers, and named them after Roman deities - Jupiter, king of the gods; Mars, the god of war; Mercury, messenger of the gods; Venus, the god of love and beauty, and Saturn, father of Jupiter and god of agriculture. The stargazers also observed comets with sparkling tails, and meteors or shooting stars apparently falling from the sky.

Since the invention of the telescope, three more planets have been discovered in our solar system: Uranus (1781), Neptune (1846), and Pluto (1930). In addition, there are thousands of small bodies such as asteroids and comets. Most of the asteroids orbit in a region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, while the home of comets lies far beyond the orbit of Pluto, in the Oort Cloud.

The four planets closest to the Sun - Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars - are called the terrestrial planets because they have solid rocky surfaces. The four large planets beyond the orbit of Mars - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune - are called gas giants. Tiny, distant, Pluto has a solid but icier surface than the terrestrial planets.

Read More About Our Solar System

People Spotlight
Armchair Astronaut Armchair Astronaut
Eugene Chiang sees science as a process by which questions are constantly asked to challenge the status quo and push the envelope of understanding. Read More...
Planetary Expressions
Kid's Drawing Katie, 11, captured the colors and mysteries of our solar system in this impressive illustration. Visit our kid's art gallery for a closer look at how kids see our solar system. Read More...
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Last Updated: 05.13.04