Solar System Home Movie

In This Chapter

V How astronomers "read" the history of the solar system

V A theory of solar system origin

V The age of the solar system

V How the solar system was born and grew: the nebular hypothesis

V Nebular hypothesis revised: the condensation theory

V Why the planets differ from one another

V The death of the solar system

In the coming chapters of this section, we will explore the solar system from the familiar to the unfamiliar—from our own back yard, to the most distant reaches of the solar neighborhood. Before we begin this journey, though, we take a moment to think about where we came from, and where we are going; a little home movie, if you will.

One of the most difficult things about understanding the origins of our solar system, the sun, and the collection of planets that orbit it, is that it has been around for a very long time. The problem is akin to looking at a middle-aged man and being asked to describe the moment of his birth. Well, we might be able to watch other births happen, and assume that his birth was much the same. But no one was present to watch the birth of our solar system, and so uncovering its beginnings has required some serious sleuthing. Yet astronomers have accepted the challenge, and they believe they have made more than a promising beginning in understanding the history of our solar system. This chapter presents the prominent theories about how the solar system was born and developed—and how, in time, it will die.

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