Sun's Over Above Earth

Sun's Position Over Earth
(to update, reload page)
Courtesy: Fourmilab Switzerland


Immense and dynamic, our Solar System is comprised of the Sun, eight major planets, scores of moons and untold numbers of dwarf planets, asteroids and other worldlets!  (1.6.x)

The eight major planets all orbit the Sun, and most significant moons orbit their parent planets, in the same direction—counter-clockwise if viewed from above the Solar System!  (1.6.x)

The Inner Planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth & Mars) orbit "relatively" near the Sun.  But the orbits of the planets are huge compared to the planets themselves!  (1.6.x)

Right Drag with your mouse after you run the links above that display the planetary orbits to get a good sense of their 3-dimensional aspects.

Are you unfamiliar with our 1.6.x and 1.4.1 links?  For an explanation  click here.


SOLAR SYSTEM SCOPE
The Solar System in 3-D


SOLAR SYSTEM ORRERY

Here's a link to an engaging animation page.  Although it doesn't show the planets or their orbits to scale, it does correctly show the planets' changing angular positions around the Sun.  Look at it closely; there is far more to this than you might suspect at first glance!  Solar System Orrery.  (Note:  the Vernal Equinox direction is toward the left, i.e. toward 9 o'clock, in this animation.)


INFERIOR & SUPERIOR PLANETS

A planet's status as Inferior or Superior depends on the size of its orbit.  The Inferior Planets, Mercury and Venus, are those with smaller orbits than Earth's; the Superior Planets are those with larger orbits.  Likewise, Earth thus is often called the Reference Planet.  The diagrams below illustrate the configurations (also called "alignments") that can occur with Inferior versus Superior Planets.

As you may gather from the above view, Inferior Planets exhibit phases to us like the Moon's.  But there are basic differences.  Although lunar phases appear to progress eastward across the Moon (relative to our sky, that is) the Inferior Planets' phases appear to progess westward or backward in comparison!  So Inferior Planets "appear" New at Inferior Conjunction, in First Qtr at Max Western Elongation, Full at Superior Conjunction and in Last Qtr at Max Eastern Elongation.  Consequently, the intervals between an Inferior Planet's main phases are much less uniform than those between our Moon's main phases.  In addition, from our terrestrial perspective Inferior Planets never stray very far from the Sun and are invisible in its glare in parts of their orbits.

Moving beyond Earth's orbit the Superior Planets travel completely around our home planet.  Therefore, unlike an Inferior Planet, any Superior Planet is visible at midnight in part of its orbit.  Moreover one never exhibits less than a gibbous phase to us here on Earth.  Plus, whenever a Superior Planet is visible to us, it is considerably more than "half-illuminated."  At conjunction and opposition, it exhibits essentially a Full phase, and at quadrature it exhibits its minimum phase.

Here's the link to a superb page from UNL that further describes  Elongations and Configurations.

CELES-TIPS

The following will help you enjoy this page's 1.6.x and 1.4.1 links that run events directly in CELESTIA.  If you're new to the program, these tips will also help you learn to use it.

  • If CELESTIA's clock (i.e. the program's date and time) is not visible at the top-right of its window, press the V key until you see it.  This will also turn on information text in other corners to help you keep track of several aspects of the event you're viewing.  Keeping an eye on CELESTIA's clock at the top-right will help you appreciate how much time is passing in each view.
  • Pressing the "un-shifted" L key and K key respectively will speed up and slow down CELESTIA's flow of time by a factor of 10 in version 1.6.x and 1.4.1.
  • Pressing Shift+L and Shift+K respectively will speed up and slow down CELESTIA's flow of time by a factor of 2 in version 1.6.x only.
  • Pressing the J key (either shifted or "un-shifted") will reverse CELESTIA's flow of time in version 1.6.x and 1.4.1.

You'll find more information about many of CELESTIA's controls on our  Learning Center  page.


  Current Planet Locations    Current Planet Locations
Courtesy: Fourmilab Switzerland

OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

Diagram above: when Earth is in the top half of its orbit, the Sun is "south" of the Celestial Equator in our skies; when Earth is in the bottom half of its orbit, the Sun is "north" of the Celestial Equator in our skies.  The Vernal (March) Equinox () is in the "3 o'clock" direction.

Large Inner Planet View         Large Overall View

 

CURRENT SUN AND MAJOR PLANET
VIEWS AND CONDITIONS FROM EARTH

Distances, Apparent Sizes, Phases, Moon Locations
Sun      Mercury      Venus      Mars
Jupiter      Saturn      Uranus      Neptune

CURRENT YEAR'S GREATEST ELONGATIONS
Mercury      Venus


HOW DID THE SOLAR SYSTEM COME TO BE?

OUR SOLAR SYSTEM'S LOCATION
IN THE MILKY WAY GALAXY


MAJOR COMPONENTS OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM

Dominant Body:    the Sun (Sol, our nearest star)
Major Planets:    8

  • Names:
    • Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune
  • From NASA Kids' Club, here's  Your Weight and Age on Other Planets
  • Here's a link to a Chrome Experiment 3-D visualization nicely showing the  Relative Sizes of the Planets.  (Requires browser that supports  WebGL )
  • Here's a link to a nice tool that illustrates the relative masses of the planets:  Planet Mass Comparison.
  • Here's a link to another cool Chrome Experiment 3-D visualization:  PlanetMaker.  (Requires browser that supports  WebGL )
  •  
  • Common Characteristics:
    • All major planets orbit the Sun in the same direction
    • All orbit in nearly the same plane
    • All but Venus and Uranus spin in the same direction
    •  
  • Planet Classifications:
    • Inner Planets:   Mercury, Venus, Earth & Mars
    • Outer Planets:   Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus & Neptune
    •  
  • Moons:
    • Mercury:    0
    • Venus:    0
    • Earth:    1
    • Mars:    2
    • Jupiter:    63 (more suspected)
    • Saturn:    62 (more suspected)
    • Uranus:    27 (more suspected)
    • Neptune:    13 (more suspected)
    • Compare Major Moons
    •  
  • Orbits:    Inner Planets     Inner & Outer Planets
    • Because of the vast and disparate scales involved, for convenience Solar System maps generally must show the planets "out of scale" compared to each other as well as to their orbits.  In reality, each planet's orbit is IMMENSE compared to the planet itself!  Expressed in terms of its own diameter, here is each planet's mean distance from the Sun.
    •         Mercury:    approx. 11,900
    •         Venus:    approx. 8,900
    •         Earth:    approx. 11,700
    •         Mars:    approx. 33,600
    •         Jupiter:    approx. 5,400
    •         Saturn:    approx. 11,900
    •         Uranus:    approx. 56,200
    •         Neptune:    approx. 90,800
    • Said another way: this how many of each planet you'd have to "line up side-by-side" to reach from the Sun out to the planet's orbit!  So even if mighty Jupiter was represented as a single pixel on your screen, showing its orbital distance in the same scale would place the Sun far off-screen!

As we'll see below, our Solar System is composed of far more than just the Sun and the major planets.  Here is a link to a presentation that begins to show that the Solar System is more complex than once suspected. All Known Bodies of the Solar System Larger than 200 Miles (320 Kilometers) in Diameter


OTHER COMPONENTS AND THE
EXTENT OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM

Our Solar System is composed of far more than just the Sun and the major planets!  Likewise, it extends much further than the orbit of Neptune, the farthest major planet!  Millions of smaller objects populate two major bands: the Asteroid and Kuiper Belts!  And, far beyond these, billions (and perhaps trillions) of worldlets may exist in that great repository of comets, the Oort Cloud!

Dwarf Planets:    5 (hundreds suspected)
    Names: (in order from the Sun)
        Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris

Asteroids:    500,000+ (millions suspected)
    Names of Largest:
        Pallas, Vesta, Hygiea, Interamnia
    Types:    C, S, M

Here's a link to a Chrome Experiment 3-D animation beautifully depicting the swarms of worldlets in the  Asteroid Belt.  (Requ.  WebGL  browser)

Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO's):    1,000+ (millions susp.)
    Names of Some of the Largest:
        Quaoar, Makemake, Haumea, Sedna, Orcus, Varuna

Comets:    4,000+ (billions suspected)
    Names of Some Notables:
        Halley, Hale-Bopp, Swift-Tuttle, Shoemaker-Levy 9

From NASA / JPL, here's a link to  Keeping an Eye on Space Rocks, a nice intro to some of the smaller worlds, including comets, of our Solar System and how they may affect us here on Earth. 

And here's a Windows to the Universe  Interactive Comet Animation.  Customize your own comet orbit!

More info on the "lesser members" of our Solar System can be found on our  Smaller Worlds  page.


WHAT IS A PLANET?
video credit: NASA

As a science progresses, new discoveries often require refinements in its systems of classification.  Such was the case for astronomy and its classification of Pluto.  This NASA video provides a good explanation of why this venerable wanderer at the edge of the "classical" Solar System was "demoted" to "dwarf planet" status.


OUR SOLAR SYSTEM'S HABITABLE ZONE

Because life as we know it requires liquid water to exist, our Solar System's "habitable zone" is the region around the Sun where an Earth-sized planet could be expected to maintain liquid water on its surface.  The habitable zone has also been popularly called the "Goldilocks zone", i.e. where it is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water, but rather is "just right".


EQUINOXES & SOLSTICES THROUGH MARCH 2014


WHERE IS OUR MOON?

To see where our Moon is in its own orbit in relation to the current orbital location of Earth,  view our Moon's Orbital Position & Phase video.


PHASES OF THE INFERIOR PLANETS

SOLAR SYSTEM BARYCENTER


DIRECT LINKS TO SOME OTHER VERY COOL SOLAR SYSTEM PAGES

From UNL here's an excellent Flash interactive showing the  Effect of the Planets on the Sun's Motion Around the Barycenter!

Discover how a planet's size, appearance and makeup are dependent on its age, its distance to its parent star, and its parent star's type!  Prepare to experience NASA's  Extreme Planet Makeover!

From LASP at the University of Colorado at Boulder site, here is a page with lots of excellent info, graphics and Flash demos about  Solar System Formation.

Learn how our understanding of our own Solar System, as well as other newly discovered solar systems now being studied, has grown throughout history and up to the year 2009 with the  NASA JPL PlanetQuest Historic Timeline!

From NASA and JPL, here's a nice graphical synopsis of many firsts in humankind's exploration of the Solar System:  Dare Mighty Things.

Trek through NASA's and JPL's own 3-D simulation of our Solar System.  Exciting missions and adventures.  (Requires JAVA.)  Eyes on the Solar System!

You'll find information, activities, games, puzzles, images, "download-able" paper models, and even help with your homework at  NASA's Solar System 101!

Here's a link to a nice NASA page:  Chronology of Lunar and Planetary Exploration.  Lots of good background info here!

Here's a Windows to the Universe page that lets you  Create and Customize Your Own Planet's Orbit!  Learn how a planet's velocity, and its orbital size and eccentricity, are all related!


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Planet Comparison HD vid.


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SKY VIEWING
SOLAR SYSTEM
THE SUN
MERCURY
VENUS
EARTH
THE MOON
MARS
JUPITER
SATURN
URANUS
NEPTUNE
SMALLER WORLDS
STELLAR OBJECTS
EXOPLANETS
DEEP-SKY OBJECTS
SCALE OF THE COSMOS
———————
SKY-FUN / SKY-GAMES


LATEST & UPCOMING SOLAR SYSTEM EVENTS

NASA / JPL Space Calendar


SOLAR SYSTEM
FUN FACTS

The Ecliptic, Earth's orbital plane, is regarded as the plane of our Solar System.  It is quite inclined to the plane of the Galaxy, which runs left to right in this diagram.

The planets do not actually orbit the Sun!  They (and the Sun also) all orbit the Solar System's center of mass, a point which is called the Solar System Barycenter!  The barycenter actually lies outside of the Sun for much of the time!

If all of the asteroids in the Asteroid Belt were gathered together into one body, it would be much smaller than the Moon!

The Oort Cloud is thought to extend out to one quarter of the distance to the nearest star!

The dark portion of Jupiter's shadow, its umbra, has an average length that's greater than the radius of Mercury's orbit!

More than 99¾% of the Solar System's mass is contained in the Sun! 


From the NASA site, here's a nice collection of photos and artwork.  ATTN: Educators!  These make great posters for any classroom!  Hi-Res PDF

SOLAR SYSTEM INTERACTIVES

QUICK ACCESS LIST

Note: some links are echoed elsewhere on this page and may include descriptive text.

Solar System Scope  (3-D)

NASA's Eyes on the Solar System  (3-D.  Requi. JAVA.)

AstroTour  (3-D)

Solar System Orrery

NASA's  Solar System 101

LASP's  The Orbit Simulator

UNL's  Effect of the Planets on the Sun's Motion Around the Barycenter!

NASA Kids' Club's  Your Weight and Age on Other Planets

Relative Sizes of the Planets  (3-D.  Requires browser that supports  WebGL )

Planet Mass Comparison

PlanetMaker  (3-D.  Requires browser supporting  WebGL )

From NASA:  Extreme Planet Makeover

Asteroid Belt  (3-D.  Requires browser supporting  WebGL )

NASA-JPL's  Keeping an Eye on Space Rocks

A Windows to the Universe page that incorporates an  Interactive Comet Animation

NASA-JPL's  PlanetQuest Historic Timeline  up to the year 2009.

From NASA:  Dare Mighty Things

From Amazing Space-STScI:  How Fast Do Objects Move in the Solar System?

A Windows to the Universe page that lets you  Create and Customize Your Own Planet's Orbit!


SKYMARVELS™
CELESTIA ADD-ONS FEATURING OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

Solar
Eclipse Finder

Lunar
Eclipse Finder


SKYMARVELS™
POSTERS FEATURING OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

Our Corner of the Cosmos

Anatomy of the Milky Way

Earth's Tides


SKYMARVELS™
VIDEOS FEATURING OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

The Solar System Barycenter

Inferior Planet Phases

The Earth-Moon Barycenter

The Speed of Light

Stunning Fields of View 001

Stunning Fields of View 002

Have You Ever . . . ?

"celestia4all" Site Preview


Solar Eclipses:

   Solar Eclipses thru 2012

   Solar Eclipse 2010 Jul 11

   Solar Eclipse 2012 Nov 13

   Solar Eclipse 2013 Nov 3


Lunar Eclipses:

   Lunar Eclipses thru 2012

   Lunar Eclipse 2010 Jun 26

   Lunar Eclipse 2010 Dec 21

   Lunar Eclipse 2011 Jun 15

 

Moon's Occultation of Venus 2010 May 16

Moon's Occultation of Venus 2010 Sep 11

 

How Big Is Our Moon?

The Same Side of the Moon Always Faces Earth

Phases of the Moon