The best planet pictures in the solar system

By Phil Plait | July 1, 2010 7:00 am
solarsystem
earth
exoplanet
jupiter
mars
mercury
moon
neptune
pluto
saturn
sun
uranus
venus

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (42)

  1. Sadly, the new gallery software doesn’t work well with RSS feed readers. With Google Reader, at least, I had to click on the link to open this page and read the article. It was just HTML gibberish on the Reader side, and then all the photographs, one after another.

  2. natasha

    i like the earth one pretty cool

  3. JupiterIsBig

    Thanks Dr Plait,
    that is a great set of snapshots – I can’t wait until we get some cool shots of Pluto and Charon

  4. I did a double-take with Mars. Thought it was a pic of someone’s intricate tattoo! Amazing.

  5. JerWah

    -sarcasm-
    The Sun is not a planet
    -/sarcasm-

  6. Jamie Mueller

    Got this error message while USING the latest Firefox:
    The browser you are currently using does not support the Discover photo galleries. Supported browsers include recent versions of Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer (version 7 or later), Google Chrome, and Apple Safari.

    Interesting that I can still view the pictures even with the above error message!

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    Thanks BA nice selection although how you NOT choose the Saturn backlit one (my fave ever planetary image and second fave astrophoto of all-time only just behind the recent M66 one) is beyond me!

    Your Neptune choice puzzles me too – definitely NOT what I’d expected.

    Loved the final image though. :-)

    PLUTO :I know, I know. Pluto’s not a planet, blah blah blah.

    Oh yes it durn well *is* a planet! Don’t make me post my “Twelve Reason Why Pluto really is a planet” again here either! ;-)

    Suffice to say dwarf planets count every bit as much as dwarf stars do as far as I’m concerned. I just wish you’d included images of Ceres, Eris, Makemake and Haumea too! ;-)

    Well, a lot of people still hold Pluto dear in their hearts so that’s a good reason to include it.

    Yes and I’m one of them. I honestly think and definitely hope the ridiculous IAU definition of planet is soon revoked and replaced with a more reasonable one that includes Pluto and the ice dwarfs eg. :

    A planet is an object that

    1. Is round(ish) through its own gravity thus NOT an asteroid orcomet
    2. Is incapable of ever shining via core fusion hence nota star or brown dwarf
    &
    3. is NOT directly orbiting another planet and thus a moon.

    If an object meets those three criteria then, far as I’m concerned, its a planet and should be classed as one. :-)

  8. Gus Snarp

    I got the error message above the post too, but the gallery worked fine. Maybe it’s because I’m using a beta of Chrome?

  9. Thanks for the collection, Phil. They are beautiful.

  10. It’s a good slideshow, but you can’t click to embiggen them.

  11. Messier Tidy Upper

    This David Hardy artwork of what looks like a frozen cave on Pluto is one of my faves :

    http://www.astroscience.org/abdul-ahad/firstarktoalphacentauri/iceworld.jpg

    Along with this one of Pluto seen from Charon :

    http://starryskies.com/articles/dln/7-99/pluto.jpg

    and then there’s this one of the very weird and fascinating ice dwarf planet Haumea :

    http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap080923.html

  12. Gary Ansorge

    I wonder what would happen to the rest of the Sol system if someone were to remove Jupiter and send it careening outward.

    Would all our other bodies be scattered in disarray?

    Just a thought.

    Gary 7

  13. Trebuchet

    Likewise getting the error message with FireFox 3.6.3 which is at least pretty recent. When I first loaded the page that was followed by a long string of HTML with the picture captions and the pictures embedded. Two minutes later, that’s gone and I see the gallery, still with the error message. Looks like the Discovery folks are working the problem as I type. Now to see if I can view the pics!

    Great pics, and an interesting and unusual selection. Can we expect to see a gallery of the solar system’s moons, and the other minor planets?

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    Plus there’s these of Vesta – three images for the price of one :

    http://transientsky.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/vestahst.jpg

    This one of Ceres :

    http://spacespin.org/images/articles/ceres_may_be_mini_planet_water_ice_3.jpg

    Combined with this scientific quote really makes you think and look at the 4 1/2th planet – according to Isaac Asimov no less – in an interesting new light. :-)

    Once thought to be rocky, we now believe Ceres may contain 200 million cubic kilometres of water in its mantle. This is more than the amount of fresh water on the Earth.
    – Page 10, “Ceres may be a failed miniplanet” by Jeff Foust in Astronomy Now magazine, November, 2005.

    Then theres this of a number of ice dwarf and rock dwarfs compared :

    http://astroprofspage.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/08/060816_planet_candidates_02.jpg

    Note that 2003 El61 is now named Haumea and 2005 FY9 is now Makemake. Not sure if 2002 TX 300 or /and 2002 AW 197 have proper names yet.

  15. Messier Tidy Upper

    Finally, making the point again about respective sizes but also really beautiful is this comparison :

    http://www.windows2universe.org/our_solar_system/dwarf_planets/images/dwarf_planet_sizes_big.jpg

    Plus my favourite one of Neptune with Voyager II experiencing sunset from there:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/e6/SunsetNeptune.png

    and one more – an Apollo 8 astrophotgraph that changed the world :

    http://www.jackkennedy.net/images/earthrise.jpg

  16. John Paradox

    RE: Firefox. I checked my version because I didn’t get the error message, and it’s 3.6.6, which did an auto-download and install a few days ago.

    Just FYI

    J/P=?

  17. Quantum Iguana

    If they were intelligent beings living on Jupiter, they might not consider Earth to be a planet, let alone Mercury. The “clearing the neighborhood” criteria is contrived specifically to exclude Pluto. Only a very small percentage remained for the Pluto vote. Had this been a vote in a legislature, there would not have been nearly enough for a quorum. The vote itself was contrived to be held when few remained to product the desired outcome.

    The whole concept of a planet is deeply flawed. Ganymede and Titan would be considered planets if they orbited the sun instead of a planet. If Mercury were knocked out of its orbit and captured by Jupiter, it would no longer be a planet. But Mercury would be unchanged, other than where it was. It’s like saying that if your car is in your garage, it is no longer a car. We could just as easily say that we have many planets, but some of them orbit much larger planets.

  18. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Oh yes it durn well *is* a planet!

    Well, it’s a dwarf planet, for good reasons, it doesn’t belong to the same population as bona fide planets. You may as well call a brown dwarf “a planet”, or your dog ‘a human’.

    Is incapable of ever shining via core fusion hence nota star or brown dwarf

    And this is another place where the population pathway criteria may turn out better. As andy noted on a recent thread:

    “Incidentally the second planet of Upsilon Andromedae is above the deuterium fusion limit: as has been predicted by theoretical models, planets can be formed which are massive enough to undergo deuterium fusion in their interiors. Deuterium fusion as a planethood criterion leads to confusing interpretations of observed systems. The universe seems perfectly capable of forming non-fusing stars and fusing planets.”

    But this is no surprise. Biologists had to adapt their naming convention away from Linnean typology to Darwinian phylogeny long since, because different pathways may result in identical traits but never the same populations.

    I honestly think and definitely hope the ridiculous IAU definition of planet is soon revoked

    I honestly think that you are a fundamentalist and definitely hope you will turn out not to be such a ridiculous person. There is no arguing with a living cognitive dissonance.

    It has now been 4 years and you can’t accept a new definition, which had been agonized over long and so likely won’t change without strong reason. New technologies can be successfully developed over such a long time horizon!

    The planets move on, and so should we.

  19. Charlie Young

    Is that error message part of the blog post? I checked my version of Firefox: 3.6.6, the most current version. The photostream seems to work fine, also.

  20. Messier Tidy Upper:

    Suffice to say dwarf planets count every bit as much as dwarf stars do as far as I’m concerned.

    I must be deranged, since the first “drarf star” to come to my mind was Verne Troyer.

    Oh, and my (Windows) Firefox 3.6.6 doesn’t show any error messages, though a bunch of text does flash by very briefly, and is then replaced by the picture gallery.

  21. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ #20 Charlie:

    My FF 3.6.6 works fine, and I can’t see any error message.

  22. Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Hey hey, folks. Thanks for the input on how the gallery’s working. Couple responses:

    @RinzeWind: I frankly don’t think we’re going to be able to get this work in feed readers because they all work so differently [e.g., feed reader apps are totally different from in-browser readers, for instance — and Google Reader is an idiosyncratic beast itself].

    @Jamie Mueller et al: It seems that there’s a weird browser-caching issue that sometimes creeps in when the first galleries load in your browser. If you do a hard reload [shift + reload], it seems to get rid of this transitory message.

    I’d definitely be interested to hear if and how the problem persists. Please send any feedback to webmaster@discovermagazine.com, and we’ll try to get the galleries working right for everyone. There a lot more galleries to see here, btw: http://discovermagazine.com/photos/

    Thanks

  23. Messier Tidy Upper

    Okay can’t resist noting this crescent Saturn image from one of the Voyager probes too :

    http://mm04.nasaimages.org/MediaManager/srvr?mediafile=/Size4/NVA2-14-NA/24574/p23254.jpg&userid=1&username=admin&resolution=4&servertype=JVA&cid=14&iid=NVA2&vcid=NA&usergroup=NASA_Jet_Propulsion_Laboratory_Collection-14-Admin&profileid=66

    @ 19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM Says:

    Well, it’s a dwarf planet, for good reasons, it doesn’t belong to the same population as bona fide planets. You may as well call a brown dwarf “a planet”, or your dog ‘a human’.

    Begging the question there by using the term “bona fide” planet methinks. Pluto is one in my view. So are Eris and Ceres. You’d disagree clearly.

    But to use the biology analogy planets are a *kingdom* not a species – its the equivalent of saying humans and dogs are animals of diferent types, animals which also include far more smaller than larger species and range wdely from insects and octopi to Elephants, dolphins and us. There is a wide range from superjovians down to ice dwarfs. Frankly, Earth has more in common with Pluto than it does Jupiter.

    BTW. There are indeed cases of brown dwarfs & planets being very hard to distinguish and some of the more massive exoplanets may be confused with or also considered to be brown dwarfs and vice versa.

    There’s a whole lot of very good reasons which I’ve mentioned before in other threads here why I think how I do on this semantic question.

    It is a contentious debate and many people – not just me – think the IAU badly messed up their definition – and the Prague vote was flawed and undemocratic too. :-(

    You call me fundamentalist? As you’d probably expect I disagree. I think those who argue the IAU are right here are falling for a giant fallacy of authority and that the IAU definition has severe logic issues. If Jupiter or Earth were moved to where Pluto was they wouldn’t be classed as planets either – something’s wrong there!

    I could go on but this probably isn’t the place – or rather thread – to hold this argument but it is something I feel strongly about.

    Maybe see this BAUT forum :

    http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php/63874-1-Year-Without-Pluto-amp-12-reasons-to-reinstate-it!?

    – Messier Tidy Upper aka StevoR ex mungascr (years ago on BAUT now StevoR there.)

  24. Bad Albert

    Messier Tidy Upper @ 12:

    This David Hardy artwork of what looks like a frozen cave on Pluto is one of my faves :
    http://www.astroscience.org/abdul-ahad/firstarktoalphacentauri/iceworld.jpg

    That image looks familiar. Was it inspired by this one taken by Herbert Ponting in 1911?
    http://www.shortlist.com/uploads/assets/arctic(2).jpg

  25. Re: Firefox

    That error message shows up in my Google Reader, but not on this site. Also using FF 3.6.6
    Don’t ask me …

    Back to the topic: Nice collection!

  26. Allen

    I’m a fan of the basic Earth-bound image of Saturn because that was exactly what it looked like when I first saw it through a telescope, which was the first planet I saw through a telescope, about thirteen years ago (aged eight).

    However, I also love that image from the Rosetta mission of the Earth. Some of the most beautiful astronomy pictures that are released seems to be from while a probe was en route to it’s destination, and for that, I’m thankful we don’t turn the cameras on until we get there.

  27. MaDeR

    Oh no, not THIS discussion again. -.-

    And about this 12 BS reasons… too much to eat on one sit-down, so one at time.

    12. “Pluto meets all the criteria for planethood” – no one thing mentioned in this point is criteria for planethood. No existence of moon, no atmosphere, no geology, no weather, no rings. Way to lie, boy.

    So, when you will take down this reason? Other alternative would be complete rewrite of this point. Then we will discuss this or next one.

  28. Jamie Mueller

    The hard reload (Shift+click on reload) fixed the issue here.
    (FF 3.6.6)

  29. Lee

    having the same issue with the gallery not working in an rss feed – using Opera’s rss reader (10.54) on OS X 10.6.4

  30. Steven Purcell

    The Mars and Earth pictures are tied in my estimate, although all of these pictures are awesome.

  31. Crux Australis

    Until a couple of months ago, my address was 6 Saturn Crescent. How cool am I?

  32. that picture of Mars always reminds me of a tribal tattoo.

  33. Messier Tidy Upper

    @25. Bad Albert Says:

    That image looks familiar. Was it inspired by this one taken by Herbert Ponting in 1911?

    I’m guessing so yes. :-)

    @ 19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM :

    I honestly think that you are a fundamentalist

    If I were a fundamentalist I’d be saying Pluto is a planet because God said so in the Bible / Koran / other religious text. ;-)

    But I’m not! Instead I’m making the case for Pluto and other dwarfs counting as planets using reason and logic.

    To turn things around, why do *you* think Pluto is NOT a planet? Is it basically just because the IAU said so? Is it not possible they got things wrong and that arguing the anti-Pluto position because the IAU dubiously decided against proper planethood for dwarf planets is actually the fundamentalist position?

    @ 28. MaDeR Says:

    Oh no, not THIS discussion again. -.-

    No one is forcing you to read or respond MaDeR. I’m allowed to express myself here without being a jerk as are you.

    And about this 12 BS reasons… too much to eat on one sit-down, so one at time. 12. “Pluto meets all the criteria for planethood” – no one thing mentioned in this point is criteria for planethood. No existence of moon, no atmosphere, no geology, no weather, no rings. Way to lie, boy.

    Remember that BA rule about not being a jerk here MaDeR? :roll:

    I’m not insulting or abusing you – please extend me & others here the same basic courtesy. :-(

    Without meaning to derail this thread any further, I think you’ve totally misunderstood the point I was making there.

    Pluto meets the other criteria for planet under the IAU definition aside from the illogical and ridiculous third “orbital clearance” criteria & Pluto has many *other* traits of a major planet too. Pluto has more moons than Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. It has more complex weather than Mercury and maybe some other planets – it quite possibly has rings. Therefore, Pluto *does* boast a lot of interesting and important features indicating its “worthiness” for planetary ranking.

    It also needs to be noted as well that NO planet – not even Earth or Jupiter – could “clear” an orbit at Pluto’s distance thus disqualifying it from planethood on that doubtful basis seems to make very little if any sense.

  34. MaDeR

    “Pluto meets the other criteria for planet under the IAU definition”
    No thing mentioned by you in point 12 have anything to do with other IAU criterias. Point me where in IAU criterias is something about, for example, having moons.

    “Therefore, Pluto *does* boast a lot of interesting and important features indicating its “worthiness” for planetary ranking.”

    This 12 point suggests that moons, weather, geology etc are generally recognized as criteria for planethood. This is lie. You suggest that something is “more planet” if have more “interesting and important features”. This is lie. Generally accepted criteria (and I am not talking about IAU at the moment) have nothing like this.

    For example no one (internet trolls does not count) seriously proposed having moons as criteria for planethood. It would boot out Mercury and Venus. No one (again, except trolls) seriously propose that having moons means world in question is “more” planet (whatever this means) than world that is identical except it does not have moon.

    This is why I consider point 12 as lie and BS.

  35. Messier Tidy Upper

    @^ MaDeR : I see that once again you have totally missed my point & are insulting me instead. :roll:

    “Pluto meets the other criteria for planet under the IAU definition.” No thing mentioned by you in point 12 have anything to do with other IAU criterias. Point me where in IAU criterias is something about, for example, having moons.

    The *other* IAU criteria I was refering to there, MaDeR, are the first two crieria laid out in the current IAU planetary definition :

    1) Hydrostatic roundness &
    2) directly orbiting the Sun not another planet

    Same as the first, far superior, planetary definition suggested before Pluto’s last minute undemocratic assassination at Prague.

    I’m not saying having moons an atmosphere etc .. are to be criteria only that Pluto – like many planets has them and that when people think of planets they generally *do* think of objects with rings, moons, atmospheres etc ..

    Pluto does have things that people associate with planethood which other planets (eg. Mercury & Vennus) lack. This is an indication that if Mercury can be a planet – and I agree it is without them – then why not Pluto which has *more* of interest than Mercury?

    Do you get it yet?

    This 12 point suggests that moons, weather, geology etc are generally recognized as criteria for planethood. This is lie.

    No, its my opinion – and I think one that can be backed up a lot better than your insulting assertion tothe contrary.

  36. Messier Tidy Upper

    PS. An experimental excercise for y’all : Ask your friends when they thinkof tehword planet do they think of a world with moons or an atmosphere,seasons or geology or rings.

    I’d say the answer will usually (not always mind you) be ‘yes’.

    Pluto is a lot more and can boast a lot more than your average asteroid or cometary nucleus.

  37. Thomas Caramagno

    I’ve been viewing Mars Reconnaissance photos for years, and I have never seen a bar code stretching across the Martian landscape.

  38. selena

    Pluto is not planet scientist think there are 10 or or more planet in our soloar system
    :)

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