Guided Exploration: Planets Zone

 

HoU Tour Map: Planets

Overview: Planets orbit stars, are massive enough for their own gravity to have made them round, and do not share their orbits with other bodies of similar size. This zone describes the formation and evolution of planets around the Sun and other stars, and examines the role of collisions for planets. It features the 15-ton Willamette Meteorite, the largest ever discovered in the U.S., and a self-sustaining habitat contained in a 39-inch closed glass globe, called the Ecosphere.

1. Planets Wall

Explore the variety of objects in our solar system, including terrestrial and gas giant planets, asteroids, Kuiper Belt objects, moons, and comets. How do you think gravity holds the solar system together? Imagine what might happen to the solar system if gravity stopped operating.

What is a planet_HERO

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What is a Planet?

In our solar system, planets are the major bodies orbiting the Sun.


Other planetary systems

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Other Planetary Systems

Until the end of the 20th century, ours was the only planetary system known. We now know of more planets outside our solar system than within it.


Surfaces

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Surfaces

Many forces shape the solid surfaces of planets and moons.


Greenhouse effect

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Greenhouse Effect

Visible sunlight heats a planet’s surface, which re-radiates the energy as infrared light. Certain atmospheric gases absorb and trap much of this infrared energy, raising the temperature at the surface.


Volcanism

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Volcanism

Volcanoes provide an efficient way for solid planets and moons to shed their internal heat.



Rings

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Rings

All of the gas giant planets have rings.


Orbits

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Orbits

The Moon orbits Earth. Earth orbits the Sun. The Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Gravity governs all of these motions, holding moons, planets, and stars in their orbits.


2. Ecosphere

This glass sphere, sealed since 1999, is a simple example of a self-sustaining ecosystem. The plants and animals recycle nutrients and obtain energy from sunlight. The algae produce oxygen for the shrimp, and the shrimp produce nutrients for the algae. Observe its contents. What is living and nonliving? What do you think keeps the organisms alive?

Ecosystem sphere

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Ecosystem Sphere

This sealed sphere contains a complete ecosystem of plants and animals, which recycle nutrients and obtain energy from sunlight.


3. Willamette Meteorite & Planetary Impacts Cluster

Touch the meteorite. How does it feel? Explore the panels to find out why pieces of astroids and comets crash into Earth.

Willamette Meteorite

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The Willamette Meteorite

Billions of years ago, an early planet orbiting the Sun was shattered, perhaps in a collision with another protoplanet.


Planetary impacts

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Planetary Impacts

Impacts have played an important role throughout the history of the solar system. During the formation epoch, impacts built up the planets.