This July, we're exploring the night sky with our "Reach For The Stars" STEM kit! There are so many amazing facts about our planets and constellations. Let's learn about some of them now!
We live on planet Earth. Earth is part of a solar system that consists of 8 different planets. All the planets in our solar system circle the sun in paths called orbits. One orbit measures how long it takes for a planet to completely go around the sun. Earth’s orbital period around the Sun is 365 days, or what we call a year. Did you know that while each planet is orbiting around the sun, it is also rotating on its axis? The time it takes for the planet to make one complete rotation around its axis is called a day. Earth days are 24 hours long.
The way each planet is positioned around the sun and how each of them circles around the sun, gives them different traits that make them unique! The closest planet to the Sun is Mercury and then comes Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, then Neptune! Let’s learn more about them!
Mercury is the smallest planet in our solar system. Since it’s the closest planet to the Sun, it doesn’t take long for Mercury to orbit around the Sun. Mercury’s orbital period around the Sun only lasts 88 Earth days! If you lived on Mercury, you would have a birthday every 3 months!
Next to Mercury, is Venus. It’s the hottest planet in our solar system because it has a very thick atmosphere that traps heat. It’s also the second brightest object in the sky after the Moon and Sun. Venus has the slowest rotation of any planet in the solar system. The longer a planet rotates, the longer a day lasts. One day on Venus is 243 Earth days! Venus’s orbital period around the sun is 225 Earth days, so that means one day on Venus is actually longer than a full year on Venus. Incredible, right?
After Venus is our planet, Earth! Earth is the only planet in our solar system that we know of that supports life. What makes Earth so different? Earth has oceans, it’s far enough away from the sun to not be too hot, but still get the right amount of heat and light, and Earth’s atmosphere is the right thickness to keep the planet warm. Earth’s orbital period around the Sun is actually 365.25 days. The 0.25 is the leap day we add every four years on February 28!
Then comes Mars! Mars is sometimes called the Red Planet because its ground is red from rusty iron in its rocks and soil. Mars is the only planet we have sent rovers to. These rovers found evidence of a lake that used to exist there. This makes scientists wonder if Mars once had living things in the past and if it might be possible for Mars to support life in the future.
Next up is Jupiter! Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system. Jupiter is mostly made of two gases - hydrogen and helium. Because of this, Jupiter doesn’t have a solid surface. While Earth has one moon, Jupiter has 79 confirmed moons! One day on Jupiter lasts 10 hours, but one year on Jupiter is 11.8 Earth years!
Jupiter’s neighbor is Saturn! Just like Jupiter, Saturn is mostly a ball of hydrogen and helium and also doesn’t have a solid surface. Saturn’s rings are made up of bits of ice, dust, and rocks. Saturn’s rings are HUGE!, They’re about as big as the distance between Earth and the Moon!
Uranus is up next and it is the only planet to rotate on its side. While Jupiter and Saturn are mostly made up of gas, Uranus is mostly made up of flowing icy materials and has the coldest atmosphere of all the planets in the solar system.
The farthest planet from the Sun is Neptune, taking 165 Earth years to orbit around the sun! Neptune was formed around 4.5 billion years ago and scientists believe that it was closer to the Sun than now, but the planet started to drift away from possible gravitational pulls from passing comets
Our solar system not only has 8 planets, but it also has 88 constellations! What’s a constellation? A constellation is a group of stars that form a pattern. In ancient times, constellations were used as part of calendars to keep track of different seasons. Humans would use constellations to tell them when it was time to plant or harvest crops and as an indicator of when winter was approaching. Stars move across our night sky and at certain times of the year, you see different constellations.
The most famous constellations are Orion, Ursa Major (which has the Big Dipper), Ursa Minor (which has the Little Dipper), Draco, and Pegasus. This month’s GIGIL STEM Kit includes activities for you to learn more about the zodiac constellations! The zodiac is an area of the sky where the Sun, Moon, and planets all move. The 13 constellations in the zodiac are also used as signs in the zodiac calendar and astrology!
There are more than 500 solar systems in our galaxy and scientists are discovering new ones every year! Our galaxy is endless and there’s so much to explore and learn!
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