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Features of planets

Many of the physical processes that operate on Earth are found throughout the solar system. The same laws of physics apply to planets, stars, and galaxies throughout the universe. The silent videos below highlight the diversity of planetary charateristics in our solar system as seen from telescopes on Earth and in space.


Many forces shape the solid surfaces of planets and moons. Initially hot, some of these surfaces fractured as they cooled, creating great chasms. Impacts produce craters and can release molten flows beneath the surface. On Earth, continental plates move continuously, forming ocean basins and mountains. Water, ice, wind, and volcanoes both erode and create surface features.
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Ring systems

All of the gas giant planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—have rings. Saturn has thousands of brightly reflective rings, whereas the others have just a few dark rings. Rings are made of ice or rock particles ranging up to house-size boulders. Collisions among particles keep the rings extremely thin. Rings may be left over from a planet’s formation, or they may be debris from the destruction of moons.
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The more than sixty moons of the solar system are a diverse collection of worlds. Two are larger than the planet Mercury. Some have ancient cratered surfaces, while others are geologically active. Many smaller moons appear to be asteroids or comets captured by the gravity of their planet.
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Atmospheric storms

Great atmospheric storms occur on all the gas giants. The rapid rotation of these planets stretches weather systems into zones that encircle them. High winds blow in opposite directions at the edges of the zones and feed energy into enormous rotating storms. Though they resemble Earth’s hurricanes, these storms are far more powerful and up to a hundred times larger.
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