Solar system

  • Exhibition Text

    • The early solar nebula was a turbulent mixture of the chemical elements, including hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, iron and silicon. But how did these elements combine to form the Sun and planets? The answer is unclear—our knowledge of solar system evolution is incomplete.

      One feature of the early solar system that is well understood, however, is that temperatures gradually decreased away from the young Sun. This change in temperature affected the distribution of elements in the solar system. Most of the hydrogen and other gases became part of the Sun. The rest of the material in the solar system combined in different proportions to form planetesimals. Close to the Sun, only rocky and metallic solids survived the intense heat. Farther out, ices could exist. These differences can be seen in the asteroid belt—and in the meteorites that fall to Earth.

      Show more
  • For Educators

    • Topic: Astronomy

      Subtopic: Planets

      Keywords: Meteorites, Astrophysics, Sun, Planets--Origin, Solar System--Origin, Chemical elements, Nebulae, Astrogeology

      Audience: General

In This Section

Anatomy of the solar system

Anatomy of the solar system

Meteorites and the planets in our solar system share an important feature: their chemical makeup relates to distance from the Sun.

From hot to cold

From hot to cold

The chemical composition of each meteorite provides clues to where its parent body resided in the solar system.