The planets

Quick guide to the planets

There are officially eight planets in the Solar System. They are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Here is a quick guide to the planets.

quick guide to the planets
A representation of the Solar System by an artist. Distances are not to scale. Image credit: NASA

Until 2006, Pluto was considered the ninth planet, but its status was altered to a new one of dwarf planet. A number of planetary scientists are campaigning to have Pluto classified as a planet once again.


quick guide to the planets

Mercury is the innermost planet in the Solar System, and is a rocky world, 4,880 km in diameter. It has a very eccentric orbit and it is covered with craters. Mercury is bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye, but only when it is far enough away from the Sun in the sky to be glimpsed in morning or evening twilight. Read more about Mercury.


quick guide to the planets

Venus is the second planet from the Sun, and only slightly smaller than the Earth. It is a rocky world shrouded completely by cloud. Its surface has been shown to be covered in volcanoes and completely inhospitable, with poisonous air, crushing atmospheric pressure and searing temperatures. Read more about Venus.


quick guide to the planets

Mars is the next planet out from the Sun after Earth. Smaller than our own planet, with a diameter of 6,795 km, it is similarly rocky. Visiting space probes and landers have shown that it was once covered with seas, though the water has long been lost underground or into space. Scientists are keen to discover if Mars was ever home to life. Read more about Mars.


quick guide to the planets

Jupiter is by far the biggest of the planets, and larger than all the others combined. Its diameter at the equator is a mighty 142,984 km. Unlike the inner planets, it is a fast-spinning ball of gases, but with a solid core deep within. Jupiter has many natural satellites including four large moons. These moons, along with belts and bands in Jupiter’s cloud tops and a Great Red Spot, can be seen with small telescopes. Read more about Jupiter.


quick guide to the planets

Saturn is a smaller gas giant than Jupiter, and 120,540 km wide at the equator. Its yellowish cloud tops are more bland than Jupiter’s, but the planet is encircled by bright rings which make it a spectacular sight through a telescope. These rings are made up of countless icy and rocky particles. Saturn also has multiple moons, the largest of which is Titan, which has a dense atmosphere. Read more about Saturn.


quick guide to the planets

Uranus is the first of the planets to be discovered, in 1781 by Sir William Herschel, because it was too faint to be noticed by ancient people. In fact it is just bright enough to see with the unaided eye if you have perfectly dark skies. Through a telescope it has a bluish hue. Uranus is the first of two planets termed ice giants. Its diameter is 50,724 km and it has 27 known moons. Read more about Uranus.


quick guide to the planets

Neptune is the outermost planet in the Solar System, following the reclassification of Pluto.  It was discovered in 1846 by Urbain Le Verrier. Neptune’s equatorial diameter is 49,244 km and it has 13 known moons. Neptune is another ice giant. Its atmosphere is bluer than Uranus, and it occasionally shows dark spots and other features in its cloud tops. Read more about Neptune.


Consultant: Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Price: $30 (US) £20 (UK). Publisher: Dorling Kindersley.

Books from Dorling Kindersley are always a visual feast and this new guide to the Solar System is no exception. Every page is filled with stunning colour images, making it a real joy to peruse.

The Planets

But along with some of the latest views of planets from visiting space probes is some equally splendid text to explain what it all means.

Click to buy The Planets in the USA
Click to buy The Planets in the UK

Maggie Aderin-Pocock, the new presenter of BBC’s long-running The Sky at Night TV show, brings her skills to bear as the book’s consultant. She is supported by some of the leading names in astronomy and space writing.

Their words are as colourful as the pictures and the result is a non-technical book that will delight readers of all ages, who won’t need brains the size of planets themselves.

Beginning with a description of how the Sun was born in a cloud of gas and dust, the book runs through the various types of object that make up the Solar System. Starting with the Sun, which dominates the family, several pages are devoted to each object. All the planets are there, including the Earth, and further sections describe the smaller bodies such as dwarf planets, moons, comets, asteroids and meteors.

A particularly attractive feature is a presentation of the different layers of individual worlds, from their atmospheres to their cores, rather like peeling away the layers of an onion. Each planet’s pages also include a timeline showing how our knowledge of them has grown through history.

In short, this is a delightful book and a must-have guide to the Solar System as we know it today.

Click here to buy The Planets in the USA
Click here to buy The Planets in the UK

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