What lies beyond our own Earth? This question has fascinated humans for centuries, increasingly so as most mysteries of our home planet have been uncovered. If you want to know more about our solar system without reading a whole book on it, then this is the place for you! I will do all the work, and read the German book "Unser Sonnensystem" by Hermann-Michael Hahn (Kosmos Verlag) (see picture link at the end of the article). Each part of the book will be watered down to one (or possibly two) columns here, so you get just the essentials, in some detail.
The topics to be discussed are:
1. The Sun
2. Earth-like Planets
3. Comets, Asteroids, Meteorites
4. Gaseous Planets
5. Beyond Neptune
6. Planetary Systems and Their Formation
Feel free to read all, or whichever one interests you most!
Now, to get you started, some interesting general facts about our solar system. These form some base knowledge for you to build on.
The solar system is defined as the whole area where the sun’s gravity is predominant. It reaches out 1.5 light years from the sun itself – this is 14 billion km, and much further out than Pluto. Beyond Pluto, there are innumerable Trans-Neptune-Objects (TNO’s), which are often made of ice and dust, and occupy various tracks that circle around in the solar system. Yet it is not the planets, or TNOs, or even the sun, which predominate in the system: It is emptiness. If the solar system was a circular city of radius 10 km, the sun would be 90 cm tall and planets would be the size of grapes and plums. The whole rest of the space would be completely empty!The neighboring stellar system is called Alpha Centauri, yet it is an almost unimaginable distance away from our standpoint.
So these are the introductory facts – look forward to the column all about the Sun which will appear in due course! You can see an image of the book mentioned above, by following this link (http://www.picable.com/Objects/Books/Book-Unser-Sonnensystem.3739721). Happy writing everybody!