Image Credit: NASA
Image Credit: NASA

Our solar system is home to 8 planets, 5 “dwarf-planets,” hundreds of moons and countless asteroids, meteors and meteorites. We call the third large rock from the sun, “Earth,” and so far, all of the things we know and understand have came from observations we’ve made here. Like it or not, it would seem as if we are grounded here for the foreseeable future, despite our best efforts otherwise. Therefore, perhaps our journey to other stars should begin here; just as life did billions of years ago. Here are some interesting facts we know about our solar system!

THE MASS MONSTERS:

1) If we crushed all of the mass and matter of the planets and moons together, the total mass still wouldn’t match Jupiter’s size. In fact, Jupiter is 2.5 times more massive than of all the other planets combined. Despite this, almost 99% of the mass of our solar system (including planets, moons, asteroids, trans-neptunian objects and oort cloud objects) belongs to the sun. The sun consists of 73% hydrogen with the remaining gases being helium, oxygen and carbon.

THE OORT CLOUD;

2) The Oort Cloud is hypothetically dubbed as the outer boundaries of our solar system and it’s believed to extend 100,000 AU’s (1 astronomical unit [AU] is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun) from the Sun, but the real “edge” of the solar system extends much further than that. We differentiate our solar system from interstellar space when the sun’s gravity and solar wind no longer has significant effect on an object. This region is called the heliosphere. According to some estimates, our solar system extends close to 2 light-years in distance.

MORE THAN A HOP AND A SKIP:

3) Again, one AU is the average distance the sun is from the Earth. Using this as a scale; Earth makes its closest approach to the sun at 147 million km (.98 AU) and the furthest at 152 million km (1.1 AU). The other planets:

Mercury
Closest to the Sun: 46 million km (.307 AU)
Furthest from the Sun: 70 million km (.466 AU)
Average: 57 million km (.387 AU)
Closest approach to Earth: 77.3 million km

Venus
Closest from the Sun: 107 million km (.718 AU)
Furthest from the Sun: 109 million km (.728 AU)
Average: 108 million km (.722 AU)
Closest approach to Earth: 40 million km

Mars
Closest to the Sun: 205 million km (1.38 AU)
Furthest from the Sun: 249 million km (1.66 AU)
Average: 228 million km (1.52 AU)
Closest approach to Earth: 65 million km

Jupiter
Closest to the Sun: 741 million km (4.95 AU)
Furthest from the Sun: 817 million km (5.46 AU)
Average: 779 million km (5.20 AU)
Closest approach to Earth: 588 million km

Saturn
Closest to the Sun: 1.35 billion km (9.05 AU)
Furthest from the Sun: 1.51 billion km (10.12 AU)
Average: 1.43 billion km (9.58 AU)
Closest approach to Earth: 1.2 billion km

Uranus
Closest to the Sun: 2.75 billion km (18.4 AU)
Furthest from the Sun: 3.00 billion km (20.1 AU)
Average: 2.88 billion km (19.2 AU)
Closest approach to Earth: 2.57 billion km

Neptune
Closest to the Sun: 4.45 billion km (29.8 AU)
Furthest from the Sun: 4.55 billion km (30.4 AU)
Average: 4.50 billion km (30.1 AU)
Closest approach to Earth: 4.3 billion km

A LONG ROAD TRIP:

4) A 747 jet typically flies about 600 mph. If we took a 747 jet to the sun, it would take 17 years of consistent travel (no potty breaks!) to get there. On a larger scale, we used the speed of light as a unit of measurement for vast interstellar distances. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. At this speed, light goes around the Earth 7 and a half times per SECOND, it takes 1 and 1/2 seconds to go from the Earth to the moon, 8 minutes to travel from the sun to the Earth and 5 light hours (the distance light travels in 5 hours) to reach Pluto from Earth.

SMALL, BUT IMPORTANT:

Earth's Oceans & Comets
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R

5) Despite seeing “shooting stars” (which are actually meteors that are burning up after entering our atmosphere) on a clear night, real comets are rarely seen passing by Earth, but long ago when our solar system was relatively young, they were believed to be much more common. Since we’ve discovered that comets are composed mainly of frozen water, a leading theory on how Earth retained its oceans suggests that our water came from frozen comets that thawed out after crashing on Earth before life evolved on our planet. If true, you are literally drinking the remnants of billion year old comets.