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A Kids Guide to Astronomy: Lights in The Sky

Lights In The Sky

Lights in the Sky: A Kids' Guide to the Planets

When you look up at night, billions of bright specks are lighting the sky, but not all of these are stars. Many of the planets in our Solar System can look like big, bright stars to the naked eye. This is because of the powerful light from our Sun, our Solar System's star. Here, we will look at the sun and the eight significant planets that revolve around it: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

The Sun

The Sun is what holds everything together in our solar system. It is a giant star named Sol by scientists, after the Roman name from ancient times. This is why our planets, moons, stars, and more are known as the Solar System. The Sun is believed to have been born about 5 billion years ago. It started as a giant cloud of dust and gas and began to form a body of mass over many millions of years, then continued to grow. As it grew, it became very hot and made light and energy. It became so big you could fit over one million copies of our planet inside!


Eight significant planets orbit our Sun. The closest planet to the Sun is called Mercury. Mercury is small, only slightly larger than Earth's moon. Because Mercury is so close to the sun, it can get scorching, and temperatures can reach as high as 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The Sun's light lets us see Mercury as it sets and rises daily. Unlike some of the other planets, Mercury has no moons.


Venus is the next closest planet and has been referred to as Earth's sister planet because it is almost identical in size and made up of most of the same elements. However, Venus is very hot and has a very toxic atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide. No living thing could survive on Venus. Because it is so close to Earth, the light from Venus makes it appear as the brightest planet in the sky. Venus also has no moons.


Third in line from the Sun is our home planet, Earth. The distance and light from the Sun combined with elements that make up Earth have created the perfect setting for life. More than 7 billion people and countless other life forms call Earth home. Only 25-30% of Earth is land, while 70-75% is water. Earth has one moon that lights up our night sky when the Sun has set.


Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun. It is also known as the "Red Planet" because the rocks and dirt on its surface are all red. Scientists believe that Mars once had water in the form of flowing rivers, lakes, and even oceans, much like the Earth. Today, water on Mars is thought to be only underground or frozen in the planet's polar caps. Two moons orbit around Mars.


Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system. It has no solid surface, and storms happen all over the earth. The giant red spot on Jupiter also called the "Eye of Jupiter," has been a massive storm for over 300 years. Jupiter has rings, but they can only be seen when the planet is in front of the Sun. Jupiter also has the most significant number of moons, at least 63.


Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest in the Solar System. The earth has seven large rings around it that are dark and light-colored and are made up of rock, dust, and ice particles. Saturn is not a very heavy planet because it is mainly made of gas. Because it is lightweight, it spins very fast. Just like Jupiter, Saturn has over 60 moons orbiting it.


Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, is next. It is believed to be made up of primarily rocks and ice and is sometimes referred to as an "Ice Giant." Rings can also be found around the planet, but they are much smaller and can't be seen as well as Saturn's. Another interesting fact about Uranus is that it spins on its side. Twenty-seven moons are orbiting around Uranus, five of which are very large. The rest are pretty small.


Neptune is the eighth planet from the Sun and nearly identical to Uranus. Very little is known about Neptune besides being a stormy planet like Jupiter. It is is the most windy planet in the Solar System, with winds that can reach up 1,200 miles per hour. So far, we only know of 13 moons that orbit Neptune.