Star Stories
Tales from the dark skies of Tenerife, brought to you by the guides of the stars!
A look at our own solar system.
By Kieran Mynott, your stargazing guide to the dark skies of Tenerife.

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.

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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.

The Solar System

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

Our solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago from a dense cloud of interstellar gas and dust. The cloud collapsed, possibly due to the shockwave of a nearby exploding star, called a supernova. When this dust cloud collapsed, it formed a solar nebula—a spinning, swirling disk of material.

At the center, gravity pulled more and more material in. Eventually the pressure in the core was so great that hydrogen atoms began to combine and form helium, releasing a tremendous amount of energy. With that, our Sun was born, and it eventually amassed more than 99 percent of the available matter.

Matter farther out in the disk was also clumping together. These clumps smashed into one another, forming larger and larger objects. Some of them grew big enough for their gravity to shape them into spheres, becoming planets, dwarf planets and large moons. In other cases, planets did not form: the asteroid belt is made of bits and pieces of the early solar system that could never quite come together into a planet. Other smaller leftover pieces became asteroids, comets, meteoroids, and small, irregular moons.

The order and arrangement of the planets and other bodies in our solar system is due to the way the solar system formed. Nearest the Sun, only rocky material could withstand the heat when the solar system was young. For this reason, the first four planets—Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars—are terrestrial planets. They’re small with solid, rocky surfaces.

Meanwhile, materials we are used to seeing as ice, liquid or gas settled in the outer regions of the young solar system. Gravity pulled these materials together, and that is where we find gas giants Jupiter and Saturn and ice giants Uranus and Neptune.

Our solar system is the only place we know of that harbors life, but the farther we explore the more we find potential for life in other places. Both Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus have global saltwater oceans under thick, icy shells.

There are more than 150 known moons in our solar system and several more awaiting confirmation of discovery. Of the eight planets, Mercury and Venus are the only ones with no moons. The giant planets grab the most moons. Jupiter and Saturn have long lead our solar system’s moon counts. In some ways, the swarms of moons around these worlds resemble mini versions of our solar system. Pluto, smaller than our own moon, has five moons in its orbit, including the Charon, a moon so large it makes Pluto wobble. Even tiny asteroids can have moons. In 2017, scientists found asteroid 3122 Florence had two tiny moons.

We will continue to explore space and who knows maybe one day we will have the technology to find other inhabitable planets and possibly other life forms.  But until then, we will have to look and wonder at the biggest question we have ever asked, are we alone in the universe?

If you want to join us to see the stars of our galaxy or a closer look through our telescope at some of the objects we have spoken about on here today.  Join us on a sunset and stars tour for a spot of stargazing and a relaxing of the soul in Tenerifes National Park!

If you have never seen a Dark Sky like the one in Tenerife then join us and I guarantee you will not be dissapointed with what you can see.  Tenerife is officially the 3rd best place in the world to see the stars and described by NASA as a window to the universe.  It’s been suggested that people who regularly stargaze live longer and are less likely to suffer from stress.  I for one can vouch for that fact as even on the toughest of days, a short drive up the mountains and tilting my head back and watching the Universe unfold just takes away any feelings of anxiety or any other feeling for that matter other than the ore and sheer merriment of seeing such an amazing Dark Sky!

Until next time this is Kieran signing off.

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Any questions please leave a comment or email me at reservations@darkskiestenerifeguide.com

Kieran.

Why Dark Skies Tenerife Guide?

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