|Topics||Asteroids, Comets, Kuiper Belt, Meteoroids, Outer Planets, Terrestrial Planets, The Sun|
The solar system also contains over a million rocky fragments of at least 1km in diameter called asteroids as well as millions more with smaller diameters. Many of these asteroids are an asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
A comet is a loose collection of ice, dust, and small rocky particles that, in contrast to an asteroid, has an extended atmosphere surrounding the center. When passing close to the Sun, this atmosphere warms and begins to release gases forming a visible coma or tail.
The Kuiper Belt is similar to the asteroid belt but much larger. Extending beyond the orbit of Neptune, it contains objects composed mostly of frozen methane, ammonia, and water. Most notably, the Kuiper Belt is home to Pluto, a dwarf planet that, until a 2006 reclassification, was considered the ninth planet of the solar system.
Smaller rocks shed by asteroids and comets are called meteoroids. When these rocks reach Earth's atmosphere, they burn up in the mesosphere and become meteors. If a meteor manages to reach the Earth, it is called a meteorite.
In contrast to the solid terrestrial planets, the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) consist of hydrogen and helium gas and water.
The four planets closest to the Sun (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) are called terrestrial (Earth-like) planets because, like the Earth, they're solid with inner metal cores covered by rocky surfaces.
The Sun is a G-type main-sequence star (G2V) but is informally known as a yellow dwarf star. Composed of 73% hydrogen and 25% helium, the hot plasma that makes up the Sun reaches 9,900°F (5,505°C) at the surface. It formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago and makes up 99.86% of the mass in the solar system.