Planets

- What is a Planet ?

In 2006, International Astronomical Union ( IAU ) defined Planet as a celestial body that :
1 ) is in orbit around the Sun.
2 ) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape.
3 ) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.

- Formation

It is not known with certainty how planets are formed. The prevailing theory is that they are formed during the collapse of a nebula into a thin disk of gas and dust. A protostar forms at the core, surrounded by a rotating protoplanetary disk. Through accretion (a process of sticky collision) dust particles in the disk steadily accumulate mass to form ever-larger bodies.

450px-Protoplanetary-disk.jpg

Protoplanetary Disc

Local concentrations of mass known as planetesimals form, and these accelerate the accretion process by drawing in additional material by their gravitational attraction. These concentrations become ever denser until they collapse inward under gravity to form protoplanets. After a planet reaches a mass somewhat larger than Mars' mass, it begins to accumulate an extended atmosphere, greatly increasing the capture rate of the planetesimals by means of atmospheric drag. Depending on the accretion history of solids and gas, a giant planet, an ice giant, or a terrestrial planet may result.

450px-PIA18469-AsteroidCollision-NearSta

Formation of planets through Asteroid collision

When the protostar has grown such that it ignites to form a star, the surviving disk is removed from the inside outward by photoevaporation, the solar wind, Poynting–Robertson drag and other effects. Thereafter there still may be many protoplanets orbiting the star or each other, but over time many will collide, either to form a single larger planet or release material for other larger protoplanets or planets to absorb.

Those objects that have become massive enough will capture most matter in their orbital neighbourhoods to become planets. Protoplanets that have avoided collisions may become natural satellites of planets through a process of gravitational capture, or remain in belts of other objects to become either dwarf planets or small bodies.

The energetic impacts of the smaller planetesimals (as well as radioactive decay) will heat up the growing planet, causing it to at least partially melt. The interior of the planet begins to differentiate by mass, developing a denser core. Smaller terrestrial planets lose most of their atmospheres because of this accretion, but the lost gases can be replaced by outgassing from the mantle and from the subsequent impact of comets. (Smaller planets will lose any atmosphere they gain through various escape mechanisms.)

- Classification

The planets of our Solar System can be divided into categories based on their composition:

  • Terrestrials: Planets that are similar to Earth, with bodies largely composed of rock: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. At 0.055 Earth masses, Mercury is the smallest terrestrial planet (and smallest planet) in the Solar System. Earth is the largest terrestrial planet.

  • Giant planets (Jovians): Massive planets significantly more massive than the terrestrials: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.

    • Gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, are giant planets primarily composed of hydrogen and helium and are the most massive planets in the Solar System. Jupiter, at 318 Earth masses, is the largest planet in the Solar System, and Saturn is one third as massive, at 95 Earth masses.

    • Ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, are primarily composed of low-boiling-point materials such as water, methane, and ammonia, with thick atmospheres of hydrogen and helium. They have a significantly lower mass than the gas giants (only 14 and 17 Earth masses).

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