Major Characteristics of Planets in the Solar System

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will go over some characteristics of the planets in our solar system with respect to their masses, diameters, temperatures, densities, and rotation.

The Characteristics of the Planets

Did you know that most of our solar system, despite the many asteroids and planets in it, is actually empty space? But even though it's mainly empty space, there is still a lot of interesting stuff going on! The planets located in our solar system have their own quirks related to size, temperature, and rotation.

In this lesson, you'll learn more about some of these interesting characteristics so you have a better understanding of how the planets compare to one another.

Revolution and Rotation

If you were to take a stick, tie a string around it, and then the other end around a ball and spin it around, you'd see that the ball revolves around the stick. Revolution is the orbital motion of a celestial body around another celestial body or point in space.

Which of these do you think revolves around the other?

  • The moon around the Earth or
  • The Earth around the sun

Both, actually! When viewed from the north, nearly all of the moons in our solar system revolve in a counterclockwise motion around their respective planets, and all of the planets in our solar system revolve around the sun in a counterclockwise motion.

But there are some interesting quirks when it comes to the rotation of the planets revolving around the sun. Rotation is the movement of a celestial body on its axis. This is like taking a top and spinning it with your fingers. It won't revolve around another point, but it will spin, or rotate, on its axis.

While most of the planets rotate on their axes in a counterclockwise fashion, there are two notable exceptions. Venus rotates backwards, in a clockwise motion, while Uranus rotates on its side. In other words, its equator is basically perpendicular to its orbit! I think Venus just wants to be different, while Uranus is too lazy to get up and spin around upright.

Temperature, Mass, and Diameter

Anyhow, our solar system also has a lot of characteristics related to the sizes and temperatures of the planets in it. Let's get into some of the more fascinating ones. While Jupiter is 11 times larger in its diameter compared to Earth, Mars has a diameter roughly half that of Earth. Essentially, if you reduced Earth to the size of a grain of table salt, Mars would be half of one grain, while Jupiter would be the size of an apple seed.

In order from largest to smallest diameter relative to Earth, the planets in our solar system go as follows:

  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Uranus
  • Neptune
  • Earth
  • Venus
  • Mars
  • Mercury

But don't get fooled by the size of a planet and its diameter. While Jupiter is only 11 times larger than the Earth by diameter, it's about 318 times more massive than Earth! Again, from most massive to least massive, relative to Earth, the planets are ordered like this:

  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Neptune
  • Uranus
  • Earth
  • Venus
  • Mars
  • Mercury

There's no need to memorize the list in order. All you have to remember are the obvious things.

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