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Table of Contents Enchanted Learning
All About Astronomy
Site Index
Our Solar System Stars Glossary Printables, Worksheets, and Activities
The Sun The Planets The Moon Asteroids Kuiper Belt Comets Meteors Astronomers

All About Astronomy

Where are we in the universe? We live on Earth, the third planet of our solar system. Our solar system is located in the Milky Way Galaxy, a collection of 200 billion stars (together with their solar systems). The Milky Way Galaxy is located in a group of 30+ galaxies we call the Local Group. The Local Group is a part of a local supercluster of 100+ galaxies (called the Virgo Supercluster). This supercluster is one of millions of superclusters in the universe.

Our Solar System
Our solar system consists of the sun, planets, dwarf planets (or plutoids), moons, an asteroid belt, comets, meteors, and other objects. The sun is the center of our solar system; the planets, over 61 moons, the asteroids, comets, meteoroids and other rocks and gas all orbit the Sun. The Earth is the third planet from the sun in our solar system.

The Planets
The nine planets that orbit the sun are (in order from the Sun): Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter (the biggest planet in our Solar System), Saturn (with large, orbiting rings), Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto (a dwarf planet or plutoid). A belt of asteroids (minor planets made of rock and metal) orbits between Mars and Jupiter. These objects all orbit the sun in roughly circular orbits that lie in the same plane, the ecliptic (Pluto is an exception; this dwarf planet has an elliptical orbit tilted over 17° from the ecliptic).

The inner planets (those planets that orbit close to the Sun) are quite different from the outer planets (those planets that orbit far from the Sun).


Small Bodies
There are other smaller object that orbit the Sun, including asteroids, comets, meteoroids and dwarf planets.


The Milky Way Galaxy

From the Earth, our Milky Way Galaxy is visible as a milky band that stretches across the night sky. It is easier to see when you are far from bright city lights.
Our solar system is located in the outer reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, which is a spiral galaxy. The Milky Way Galaxy contains roughly 200 billion stars. Most of these stars are not visible from Earth. Almost everything that we can see in the sky belongs to the Milky Way Galaxy.

The sun is about 26,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, which is about 80,000 to 120,000 light-years across (and less than 7,000 light-years thick). We are located on on one of its spiral arms, out towards the edge. It takes the sun (and our solar system) roughly 200-250 million years to orbit once around the Milky Way. In this orbit, we (and the rest of the Solar System) are traveling at a velocity of about 155 miles/sec (250 km/sec).

To reach the center of the Milky Way Galaxy starting from the Earth, aim toward the constellation Sagittarius. If you were in a spacecraft, during the trip you would pass the stars in Sagittarius one by one (and many other stars!).

The Milky way Galaxy is just one galaxy in a group of galaxies called the Local Group. Within the Local Group, the Milky Way Galaxy is moving about 300 km/sec (towards the constellation Virgo). The Milky Way Galaxy is moving in concert with the other galaxies in the Local Group (the Local Group is defined as those nearby galaxies that are moving in concert with each other, independent of the "Hubble flow" expansion).


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