We have often talked about distant stars and galaxies in this blog. Today, however, we are going to take a look at our own Solar System and the Milkyway. We are in a region of the Milkyway known as the Orion Spur. Our Solar system is a planetary system that orbits a star and all the other objects that also travel around it. So far known to us there are 8 planets, 5 dwarf planets, 190+ moons, 794,145 asteroids & 3,568 comets.
Most stars host their own planets, so there are likely tens of billions of other solar systems in the Milky Way galaxy alone. Solar systems can also have more than one star. These are called binary star systems if there are two stars, or multi-star systems if there are three or more stars.
The solar system we call home is located in an outer spiral arm of the vast Milky Way galaxy. It consists of the Sun (our star) and everything that orbits around it. This includes the eight planets and their natural satellites (such as our moon), dwarf planets and their satellites, as well as asteroids, comets and countless particles of smaller debris.
Our solar system extends much farther than the eight planets that orbit the Sun. The solar system also includes the Kuiper Belt that lies past Neptune’s orbit. This is a sparsely occupied ring of icy bodies, almost all smaller than the most popular Kuiper Belt Object, dwarf planet Pluto.
And beyond the fringes of the Kuiper belt is the Oort Cloud. This giant spherical shell surrounds our solar system. It has never been directly observed, but its existence is predicted based on mathematical models and observations of comets that likely originate there.
The Oort Cloud is made of icy pieces of space debris the sizes of mountains and sometimes larger, orbiting our Sun as far as 1.6 light years away. This shell of material is thick, extending from 5,000 astronomical units to 100,000 astronomical units. One astronomical unit (or AU) is the distance from the Sun to Earth, or about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers). The Oort Cloud is the boundary of the Sun’s gravitational influence, where orbiting objects can turn around and return closer to our Sun.
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”
- Stephen Hawking
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