The life-cycle of the Solar System

The life-cycle of the Solar System

The formation of the Sun and the planets started with the contraction of a dust cloud about 4.5 billion years ago.

Geography

Keywords

Solar System, Sun, protosun, protoplanet, planet, star, stars, Earth, proto-Earth, formation of the Earth, rocky planet, gas planet, outer planet, inner planets, red giant, white dwarf, future, fusion, hydrogen, helium, gas cloud, nebula, star development, astronomy, geography, physics

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Scenes

Dust cloud

Start of contraction 4.5 billion years ago

The birth of the Protosun

Protoplanets

The fully formed Solar System

Animation

  • red giant - Once the Sun exhausts all of its hydrogen supplies within its core, nuclear fusion will start in its outer layers. As a result, the Sun will grow 256 times its current size.
  • planetary nebula - In the final stage of stellar evolution, the outer layers of the Sun will separate from the core, forming a huge shell composed of gas and dust around the Sun.
  • white dwarf - The Sun will become a particularly heavy object: its size will be not larger than that of the Earth (at present the diameter of the Sun is 109 times the Earth's), but its mass will be about half of its current mass.
  • in 5 billion years
  • in 7.6 billion years
  • in 7.9 billion years
  • in 8 billion years

The future of the Solar System

  • red giant - Once the Sun exhausts all of its hydrogen supplies within its core, nuclear fusion will start in its outer layers. As a result, the Sun will grow 256 times its current size.
  • planetary nebula - In the final stage of stellar evolution, the outer layers of the Sun will separate from the core, forming a huge shell composed of gas and dust around the Sun.
  • white dwarf - The Sun will become a particularly heavy object: its size will be not larger than that of the Earth (at present the diameter of the Sun is 109 times the Earth's), but its mass will be about half of its current mass.
  • in 5 billion years
  • in 7.6 billion years
  • in 7.9 billion years
  • in 8 billion years

Narration

Our Solar System formed around 4.5 billion years ago. It developed from a cloud of very fine dust.

The dust particles in this cloud stuck together to form clumps, like the dust bunnies under our bed.

The dust clumps gradually grew until they formed a disc-shaped cloud. At the centre of the cloud, matter became denser and the temperature increased. Thus the forerunner of our Sun was formed. Once the dust clumps reached a diameter of about 100 m, they collided more and more frequently.

Due to frequent collisions, their size increased, resulting in the formation of the planets. Since the kinetic energy was converted into heat energy during the impacts, the colliding units melted. As a result, heavy metals accumulated in the core of the planets, while low-density silicates became part of the mantle. Due to gradual cooling, the crust solidified, while the core remained fluid. This is how the inner planets were formed. The outer planets, however, were formed differently due to extremely cold temperatures. Ice particles stuck together, attracting hydrogen, helium and other gases.

After they were born, the planets of the Solar System underwent numerous impacts, which changed their rotational velocity and the inclination of their axis of rotation. It was during such a collision, around 4 billion years ago, that the material from wich the Moon was later formed broke away from the Earth.

About 5 billion years from now, the Sun will enter the next phase of stellar evolution. Once the nuclear fusion of hydrogen stops in its core, the core will shrink, while the outer layers will inflate, and the Sun will become a red giant.

About 7.9 billion years from now, the Sun will reach its maximum size during its red giant phase: it will be 256 times its current size. After engulfing Mercury and Venus, the Sun will probably engulf the Earth as well.

Then the outer layers of the Sun will gradually separate from its core, forming a planetary nebula. The core itself will shrink even more and it will become a white dwarf. In this phase, the Sun radiates its remaining heat into space. In the last phase of its life, once its remaining heat is depleted, the Sun will become a dark and cold black dwarf.

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The Solar System; planetary orbits

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The diameter of the Sun is about 109 times that of the Earth. Most of its mass consists of hydrogen.

Comets

Comets are spectacular celestial bodies orbiting the Sun.

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The diameter of our galaxy is about 100,000 light years; it contains more than 100 billion stars, one of which is our Sun.

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Earth

The Earth is a rocky planet with a solid crust and oxygen in its atmosphere.

Jupiter

Jupiter is the largest planet of the Solar System, it has two and a half times the mass of all the other planets combined.

Mars

Possible traces of water and life are sought on Mars.

Mercury

Mercury is innermost and smallest planet of the Solar System.

Neptune

Neptune is the outermost planet of the Solar System, the smallest of the giant planets

Phases of the Moon

During its orbit around the Earth, the visibility of the Moon's illuminated part constantly changes.

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The largest satellite of Pluto is Charon.

Saturn

Saturn is the second largest planet in the Solar System, easily recognisable by its rings.

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The Moon is the Earth's only natural satellite

Uranus

Uranus is the 7th planet from the Sun, a gas giant.

Venus

Venus is the 2nd planet from the Sun, the brightest object on the night sky (after the Moon).

Continental drift on a geological timescale

The Earth's continents have been in constant motion during the history of the planet.

Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope orbits outside the distorting influence of Earth´s atmosphere.

ISS

The International Space Station is a habitable satellite built with the cooperation of 16 countries.

Lunar eclipse

Lunar eclipses occur when the Moon passes through the shadow cone of Earth

Mars Exploration Program

Space probes and Mars rovers examine the structure of Mars and possible traces of life.

Space Shuttle

The Space Shuttle was a manned, reusable spacecraft operated by NASA.

Sputnik 1 (1957)

The Soviet-made satellite was the first spacecraft to be launched into outer space (in October 1957).

The Cassini-Huygens Mission (1997-2017)

The Cassini spacecraft was exploring Saturn and its moons for nearly 20 years.

The Dawn mission

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The New Horizons mission

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Voyager space probes

The Voyager space probes were the first man-made objects to leave the Solar System. They gather data about outer space and carry information about humanity.

Yuri Gagarin's journey to outer space (1961)

Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space on 12 April 1961.

Apollo 15 mission (Lunar Rover)

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Moon landing: 20 July 1969

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Solar eclipse

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