Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Moons, Rings, and Magnetospheres
There are 140 known natural satellites, also called moons, in orbit around the various planets in our solar system, ranging from bodies larger than our own moon to small pieces of debris.

From 1610 to 1977, Saturn was thought to be the only planet with rings. We now know that Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune also have ring systems, although Saturn's is by far the largest. Particles in these ring systems range in size from dust to boulders to house-size, and may be rocky and/or icy.

Most of the planets also have magnetic fields, which extend into space and form a magnetosphere around each planet. These magnetospheres rotate with the planet, sweeping charged particles with them. The sun has a magnetic field, the heliosphere, which envelops our entire solar system.

Ancient astronomers believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, and that the sun and all the other stars revolved around the Earth. Copernicus proved that Earth and the other planets in our solar system orbit our sun. Little by little, we are charting the universe, and an obvious question arises: Are there other planets where life might exist? Only recently have astronomers had the tools to indirectly detect large planets around other stars in nearby solar systems.


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