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Lights in the sky

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

When you look up at night, there are billions of bright specks 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 take a look at the sun and the 8 major planets that revolve around it named 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 our planets, moons, stars and more are all known as the Solar System. The Sun is believed to have been born about 5 billion years ago. It started out 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 started making light and energy. It became so big you could fit over one million copies of our planet inside of it!


There are 8 major planets that 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 very hot, and temperatures can get as high as 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The Sun's light allows us to see Mercury as it sets and rises rises everyday. 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. Venus, however, is very hot and has a very toxic atmosphere made up 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 forms of life call Earth home. Only about 25-30% of Earth is land while the other 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 all have a red color to them. It is believed by scientists 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 planets' polar caps. There are two moons that orbit around Mars.


Jupiter is the biggest planet in our Solar System. It does not have a solid surface and storms happen all over the planet. The giant red spot on Jupiter, also called the "Eye of Jupiter," is actually a massive storm that has been going on for over 300 years. Jupiter has rings, but they can only be seen when the planet is front of the Sun. Jupiter also has the largest number of moons, at least 63.


Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest in the Solar System. The planet has seven large rings around it that are dark and light colored and are made up of particles of rock, dust, and ice. Saturn is not a very heavy planet, because it is made up of mostly 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 mostly 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. There are 27 moons orbiting around Uranus, and five of them are very large. The rest are quite small.


Neptune is the eighth planet from the Sun and nearly identical to Uranus. Very little is known about Neptune, besides the fact that it is 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.

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