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19 18 Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars Our solar system can be thought of a series of thin rotating rings, each slowly settling down. Divided by an asteroid belt into two halves, the inner region sports four small rocky planets quickly orbiting the Sun, while the outer half has four slow huge gas and ice planets. The Sun has still not given up its secrets. Mostly Hydrogen and Helium, and an element factory, it is also a giant fluid geometric magnet, 15 millionoC at its core, 6,000oC at the surface. It blows a particle wind through the entire solar system and its sunspots and huge solar flares affect electronics on Earth. Mercury is the first planet. Mostly solid iron, it is a cratered, atmosphereless world, 400oC in the sunshine, 170oC in the shade. Venus is second, a cloudshrouded greenhouse world. On the surface the temperature is a staggering 480oC and the carbon dioxide rich atmosphere is ninety times denser than Earths. An apple here would be instantly incinerated by the heat, crushed by the atmosphere and finally dissolved in sulphuric acid rain. Earth is the third planet, the one with life and one Moon. Mars is fourth, a rocky red world, just above freezing. Ice caps cover the poles under a thin atmosphere. River beds suggest that Mars may once have had oceans but they are long gone now and today dust storms regularly envelop the planet for days. Huge dead volcanoes, one three times larger than Mount Everest, stand witness to a bygone age. Mars has two tiny moons. Beyond Mars is the Asteroid Belt, and, beyond that, the giants. Suncentred View from Earth sizes of the inner planets tilts and eccentricities of the orbits of the inner planets
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