"The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it...
"...can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do." — Galileo Galilei
The Inner Planets
The inner planets, or terrestrial planets, are the four planets closest to the Sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Figure below shows the relative sizes of these four inner planets.
This composite shows the relative sizes of the four inner planets. From left to right, they are Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.
Unlike the outer planets, which have many satellites, Mercury and Venus do not have moons, Earth has one, and Mars has two. Of course, the inner planets have shorter orbits around the Sun, and they all spin more slowly. Geologically, the inner planets are all made of cooled igneous rock with iron cores, and all have been geologically active, at least early in their history. None of the inner planets has rings.
The Outer Planets
The four planets farthest from the Sun are the outer planets. Figure below shows the relative sizes of the outer planets and the Sun. These planets are much larger than the inner planets and are made primarily of gases and liquids, so they are also called gas giants.
This image shows the four outer planets and the Sun, with sizes to scale. From left to right, the outer planets are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
The gas giants are made up primarily of hydrogen and helium, the same elements that make up most of the Sun. Astronomers think that hydrogen and helium gases comprised much of the solar system when it first formed. Since the inner planets didn’t have enough mass to hold on to these light gases, their hydrogen and helium floated away into space. The Sun and the massive outer planets had enough gravity to keep hydrogen and helium from drifting away.
All of the outer planets have numerous moons. They all also have planetary rings, composed of dust and other small particles that encircle the planet in a thin plane.
- The four inner planets have slower orbits, slower spin, no rings, and they are made of rock and metal.
- The four outer planets have faster orbits and spins, a composition of gases and liquids, numerous moons, and rings.
- The outer planets are made of hydrogen and helium, so they are called gas giants.
Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.
1. Which inner planets have no moons?
2. Which inner planet is the hottest?
3. What do all the inner planets have in common?
4. What divides the inner planets from the outer planets?
5. What characteristics do the outer planets share?
6. Which planet has the largest ring system?
7. Which planet has the most moons?
1. What are the four inner planets? What are the four outer planets?
2. What is the difference in composition between the inner and outer planets? What accounts for the difference?
3. How does the arrangement of planets support the model for the formation of the solar system discussed in "Concept Earth History"?