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Thursday, 21 July 2011

Planet


Planetary-sized objects to scale:
Top row: Uranus and Neptune; second row: Earth, white dwarf star Sirius B, Venus; bottom row (reproduced and enlarged in lower image) – above: Mars and Mercury; below: the Moon, dwarf planets Pluto and Haumea.
A planet (from Greek πλανήτης αστήρ "wandering star") is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimalsThe term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science, mythology, and religion. The planets were originally seen by many early cultures as divine, or as emissaries of the gods. As scientific knowledge advanced, human perception of the planets changed, incorporating a number of disparate objects. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union officially adopted a resolution defining planets within the Solar System. This definition has been both praised and criticized, and remains disputed by some scientists.
The planets were thought by Ptolemy to orbit the Earth in deferent and epicycle motions. Though the idea that the planets orbited the Sun had been suggested many times, it was not until the 17th century that this view was supported by evidence from the first telescopic astronomical observations, performed by Galileo Galilei. By careful analysis of the observation data, Johannes Kepler found the planets' orbits to be not circular, but elliptical. As observational tools improved, astronomers saw that, like Earth, the planets rotated around tilted axes, and some shared such features as ice-caps and seasons. Since the dawn of the Space Age, close observation by probes has found that Earth and the other planets share characteristics such as volcanism, hurricanes, tectonics, and even hydrology.
Planets are generally divided into two main types: large, low-density gas giants, and smaller, rocky terrestrials. Under IAU definitions, there are eight planets in the Solar System. In order of increasing distance from the Sun, they are the four terrestrials, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, then the four gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Six of the planets are orbited by one or more natural satellites. Additionally, the Solar System also contains at least five dwarf planets[3] and hundreds of thousands of small Solar System bodies.

History

Printed rendition of a geocentric cosmological model from Cosmographia, Antwerp, 1539
The idea of planets has evolved over its history, from the divine wandering stars of antiquity to the earthly objects of the scientific age. The concept has expanded to include worlds not only in the Solar System, but in hundreds of other extrasolar systems. The ambiguities inherent in defining planets have led to much scientific controversy.
The five classical planets, being visible to the naked eye, have been known since ancient times, and have had a significant impact on mythology, religious cosmology, and ancient astronomy. In ancient times, astronomers noted how certain lights moved across the sky in relation to the other stars. Ancient Greeks called these lights πλάνητες ἀστέρες (planetes asteres "wandering stars") or simply "πλανήτοι" (planētoi "wanderers"),[5] from which today's word "planet" was derived In ancient Greece, China, Babylon and indeed all pre-modern civilisations, it was almost universally believed that Earth was in the center of the Universe and that all the "planets" circled the Earth. The reasons for this perception were that stars and planets appeared to revolve around the Earth each day,[10] and the apparently common-sense perception that the Earth was solid and stable, and that it was not moving but at rest.
The name for planets in Chinese astronomy had the same motive as the Greek name, 行星 "moving star". In Japanese during the Edo period there were two competing terms, 惑星 "confused star" and 遊星 "wandering star". In modern Japan, terminology was unified in favour of 惑星, but in science fiction the alternative term 遊星 retains some currency.

Internal differentiation


Illustration of the interior of Jupiter, with a rocky core overlaid by a deep layer of metallic hydrogen
Every planet began its existence in an entirely fluid state; in early formation, the denser, heavier materials sank to the centre, leaving the lighter materials near the surface. Each therefore has a differentiated interior consisting of a dense planetary core surrounded by a mantle which either is or was a fluid. The terrestrial planets are sealed within hard crusts,[116] but in the gas giants the mantle simply dissolves into the upper cloud layers. The terrestrial planets possess cores of magnetic elements such as iron and nickel, and mantles of silicates. Jupiter and Saturn are believed to possess cores of rock and metal surrounded by mantles of metallic hydrogen.[117] Uranus and Neptune, which are smaller, possess rocky cores surrounded by mantles of water, ammonia, methane and other ices.[118] The fluid action within these planets' cores creates a geodynamo that generates a magnetic field.[116]

Atmosphere

Earth's atmosphere
All of the Solar System planets have atmospheres as their large masses mean gravity is strong enough to keep gaseous particles close to the surface. The larger gas giants are massive enough to keep large amounts of the light gases hydrogen and helium close by, while the smaller planets lose these gases into space.[119] The composition of the Earth's atmosphere is different from the other planets because the various life processes that have transpired on the planet have introduced free molecular oxygen.[120] The only solar planet without a substantial atmosphere is Mercury which had it mostly, although not entirely, blasted away by the solar wind.[121]
Planetary atmospheres are affected by the varying degrees of energy received from either the Sun or their interiors, leading to the formation of dynamic weather systems such as hurricanes, (on Earth), planet-wide dust storms (on Mars), an Earth-sized anticyclone on Jupiter (called the Great Red Spot), and holes in the atmosphere (on Neptune).[104] At least one extrasolar planet, HD 189733 b, has been claimed to possess such a weather system, similar to the Great Red Spot but twice as large.[122]
Hot Jupiters have been shown to be losing their atmospheres into space due to stellar radiation, much like the tails of comets These planets may have vast differences in temperature between their day and night sides which produce supersonic winds,[125] although the day and night sides of HD 189733 b appear to have very similar temperatures, indicating that that planet's atmosphere effectively redistributes the star's energy around the planet.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Extrasolar planets


Exoplanets, by year of discovery, through 2010-10-03.
The first confirmed discovery of an extrasolar planet orbiting an ordinary main-sequence star occurred on 6 October 1995, when Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva announced the detection of an exoplanet around 51 Pegasi. Of the more than 500 extrasolar planets discovered by December 2010, most have masses which are comparable to or larger than Jupiter's, though masses ranging from just below that of Mercury to many times Jupiter's mass have been observed.[75] The smallest extrasolar planets found to date have been discovered orbiting burned-out star remnants called pulsars, such as PSR B1257+12.[76]
There have been roughly a dozen extrasolar planets found of between 10 and 20 Earth masses,[75] such as those orbiting the stars Mu Arae, 55 Cancri and GJ 436.[77] These planets have been nicknamed "Neptunes" because they roughly approximate that planet's mass (17 Earths).[78]
and five of the six planets orbiting the nearby red dwarf Gliese 581. Gliese 581 d is roughly 7.7 times Earth's mass,[82] while Gliese 581 c is five times Earth's mass and was initially thought to be the first terrestrial planet found within a star's habitable zone.[83] However, more detailed studies revealed that it was slightly too close to its star to be habitable, and that the farther planet in the system, Gliese 581 d, though it is much colder than Earth, could potentially be habitable if its atmosphere contained sufficient greenhouse gases.[84]
Size comparison of HR 8799 c (gray) with Jupiter. Most exoplanets discovered thus far are larger than Jupiter, though discoveries of smaller planets are expected in the near future.
It is far from clear if the newly discovered large planets would resemble the gas giants in the Solar System or if they are of an entirely different type as yet unknown, like ammonia giants or carbon planets. In particular, some of the newly discovered planets, known as hot Jupiters, orbit extremely close to their parent stars, in nearly circular orbits. They therefore receive much more stellar radiation than the gas giants in the Solar System, which makes it questionable whether they are the same type of planet at all. There may also exist a class of hot Jupiters, called Chthonian planets, that orbit so close to their star that their atmospheres have been blown away completely by stellar radiation. While many hot Jupiters have been found in the process of losing their atmospheres, as of 2008, no genuine Chthonian planets have been discovered.[85]

Solar System


Planets and dwarf planets of the Solar System. (Sizes to scale, distances not to scale)
The inner planets. From left to right: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars (sizes to scale).
The four gas giants against the Sun: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune (Sizes to scale, distances not to scale)
According to the IAU's current definitions, there are eight planets and five dwarf planets in the Solar System. In increasing distance from the Sun, the planets are:
  1. ☿ Mercury
  2. ♀ Venus
  3. ⊕ Earth
  4. ♂ Mars
  5. ♃ Jupiter
  6. ♄ Saturn
  7. ♅ Uranus
  8. ♆ Neptune
Jupiter is the largest, at 318 Earth masses, while Mercury is smallest, at 0.055 Earth masses.
The planets of the Solar System can be divided into categories based on their composition:
  • Terrestrials: Planets that are similar to Earth, with bodies largely composed of rock: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. At 0.055 Earth masses, Mercury is the smallest terrestrial planet (and smallest planet) in the Solar System, while Earth is the largest terrestrial planet.
  • Gas giants (Jovians): Planets largely composed of gaseous material and significantly more massive than terrestrials: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. Jupiter, at 318 Earth masses, is the largest planet in the Solar System, while Saturn is one third as big, at 95 Earth masses.
    • Ice giants, comprising Uranus and Neptune, are a sub-class of gas giants, distinguished from gas giants by their significantly lower mass (only 14 and 17 Earth masses), and by depletion in hydrogen and helium in their atmospheres together with a significantly higher proportion of rock and ice.
  • Dwarf planets: Before the August 2006 decision, several objects were proposed by astronomers, including at one stage by the IAU, as planets. However in 2006 several of these objects were reclassified as dwarf planets, objects distinct from planets. Currently five dwarf planets in the Solar System are recognized by the IAU: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris. Several other objects in both the Asteroid belt and the Kuiper belt are under consideration, with as many as 50 that could eventually qualify. There may be as many as 200 that could be discovered once the Kuiper belt has been fully explored. Dwarf planets share many of the same characteristics as planets, although notable differences remain – namely that they are not dominant in their orbits. By definition, all dwarf planets are members of larger populations. Ceres is the largest body in the asteroid belt, while Pluto, Haumea, and Makemake are members of the Kuiper belt and Eris is a member of the scattered disc. Scientists such as Mike Brown believe that there may soon be over forty trans-Neptunian objects that qualify as dwarf planets under the IAU's recent definition.[73]

Formation

Formation

It is not known with certainty how planets are formed. The prevailing theory is that they are formed during the collapse of a nebula into a thin disk of gas and dust. A protostar forms at the core, surrounded by a rotating protoplanetary disk. Through accretion (a process of sticky collision) dust particles in the disk steadily accumulate mass to form ever-larger bodies. Local concentrations of mass known as planetesimals form, and these accelerate the accretion process by drawing in additional material by their gravitational attraction. These concentrations become ever denser until they collapse inward under gravity to form protoplanets.[65] After a planet reaches a diameter larger than the Earth's moon, it begins to accumulate an extended atmosphere, greatly increasing the capture rate of the planetesimals by means of atmospheric drag.[66]
An artist's impression of protoplanetary disk
When the protostar has grown such that it ignites to form a star, the surviving disk is removed from the inside outward by photoevaporation, the solar wind, Poynting-Robertson drag and other effects. Thereafter there still may be many protoplanets orbiting the star or each other, but over time many will collide, either to form a single larger planet or release material for other larger protoplanets or planets to absorb.[69] Those objects that have become massive enough will capture most matter in their orbital neighbourhoods to become planets. Meanwhile, protoplanets that have avoided collisions may become natural satellites of planets through a process of gravitational capture, or remain in belts of other objects to become either dwarf planets or small bodies.