THE SOLAR SYSTEM AND OTHER NEW PLANETS IN OUTER SPACE
Did you know that over 200 new planets have been discovered by astronomers in 2022 alone, and that astronomers have also discovered no fewer than 5,000 exoplanets?
There are many planetary systems like ours in the universe, with planets orbiting a host star. Our planetary system is called “the solar system” because we use the word “solar” to describe things related to our star, after the Latin word for Sun, "solis." Our solar system consists of our star, the Sun, and everything bound to it by gravity – the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune; dwarf planets such as Pluto; dozens of moons; and millions of asteroids, comets, and meteoroids. Beyond our own solar system, we have discovered thousands of planetary systems orbiting other stars in the Milky Way.
An international team of scientists says it has discovered two new "super-Earth" type planets about 100 light-years away, one of which may be suitable for life. Unlike any of the planets in our solar system, the nearly 1,600 known super-Earths are larger than Earth, but lighter than icy planets like Uranus and Neptune.
The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope has also helped the quest to discover more exoplanets. In a big discovery, astronomers found over 200 new planets outside our solar system. In 2022 alone, astronomers discovered fewer than 5,000 exoplanets. And by the end of 2022, the number has grown to 5,235 exoplanets.
The James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful observatory sent into space, succeeded the Hubble telescope, which is still operating, and began transmitting its first cosmic images in July. One of the main goals of the $10-billion telescope is to study the life cycle of stars. Another main research focus is on exoplanets, planets outside Earth's solar system. Exoplanets have a varied range of worlds when it comes to their composition and characteristics. While some are small and rocky, other looks a lot like Earth. Astronomers discovered the latest planet in 2022, named HD 109833 b, it is a Neptune-like exoplanet that orbits around a G-type star. The astronomers found it using the transit method.
In a recent discovery, astronomers find that two exoplanets may be mostly water. Water wasn't directly detected, but by comparing the sizes and masses of the planets to models, they conclude that a significant fraction of their volume -- up to half of it -- should be made of materials that are lighter than rock but heavier than hydrogen or helium (which constitute the bulk of gas giant planets like Jupiter). The most common of these candidate materials is water.
Meanwhile, here are 10 things to know about our solar system:
1] ONE OF BILLIONS
Our solar system is made up of a star, eight planets, and countless smaller bodies such as dwarf planets, asteroids, and comets.
2] MEET ME IN THE ORION ARM
Our solar system orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy at about 515,000 mph (828,000 kph). We’re in one of the galaxy’s four spiral arms.
3] A LONG WAY ROUND
It takes our solar system about 230 million years to complete one orbit around the galactic center.
4] SPIRALING THROUGH SPACE
There are three general kinds of galaxies: elliptical, spiral, and irregular. The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy.
5] GOOD ATMOSPHERE(S)
Our solar system is a region of space. It has no atmosphere. But it contains many worlds – including Earth – with many kinds of atmospheres.
6] MANY MOONS
The planets of our solar system – and even some asteroids – hold more than 200 moons in their orbits.
7] RING WORLDS
The four giant planets – and at least one asteroid – have rings. None are as spectacular as Saturn’s gorgeous rings.
8] LEAVING THE CRADLE
More than 300 robotic spacecraft have explored destinations beyond Earth's orbit, including 24 American astronauts who made the trip from the Earth to the Moon.
9] LIFE AS WE KNOW IT
Our solar system is the only one known to support life. So far, we only know of life on Earth, but we’re looking for more everywhere we can.
10] FAR-RANGING ROBOTS
NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are the only spacecraft to leave our solar system. Three other spacecraft – Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, and New Horizons – will eventually hit interstellar space.
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