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Last updated: 08 May 2006 1138 BST
Pic: Mark Lawrik-Thompson
Graphic: Explore the outer planets with our expert
Norfolk astronomer and Chairman of the Norwich Astronomical Society Mark Thompson writes about the outer planets, Neptune, Uranus and Pluto.
Picture: Neptune
Neptune is one of the planets furthest from the sun

The planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are the furthest from the sun.

Find out more with our kids' guide to astronomy by local astronomer Mark Thompson.


Of all the planets, we can sometimes see Mercury without telescopes and of course we can easily see the Earth but we need a telescope to see the other planets.

The three outer most planets are Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

Uranus

Picture: Uranus has rings like Saturn
Uranus has rings like Saturn

Uranus and Neptune are both fairly similar; they are made of gas, very much like Jupiter and Saturn.

They both even have a ring system like Saturn although not quite as amazing.

All of the planets go around the Sun following a path that is like a squashed circle. They also all go around the Sun in roughly the same plane.

That means that if the Sun were sitting at the middle of a huge piece of paper, the planets would all be travelling on the paper, never travelling to far above or to far below it. As they move around the Sun, they are all spinning and they all tend to spin in an upright way.

Think of the way a spinning top spins. Uranus is different. Its almost rolling around the Sun on its side! We think that at some time in the past, Uranus must have been knocked over by some large rock smashing into it.

Neptune

Neptune, the eighth planet from the Sun is very similar to Uranus and through a telescope looks blue.

Can you remember reading about Jupiter and its Great Red Spot? Well, Neptune has a similar feature called the Great Dark Spot and its just like Jupiter's spot but a little smaller and darker in colour.

It's the same sort of thing too - a huge hurricane system that's bigger than the Earth.

Pluto

Picture: Pluto
Pluto

Pluto is a bit of a strange planet. The four planets near the Sun are made of rock and you could walk around on the surface, then the four next planets are made of gas and you could not walk around on them.

Then there's Pluto. It's just like the four nearer planets so it has got a solid surface.

It's also got a very weird path around the Sun. All the other planets move around the Sun in paths like gently squashed circles.

Pluto on the other hand has a path that is like a very squashed circle. It even takes Pluto inside the orbit of Neptune on occasions so that Neptune is the most distant planet for a while, not Pluto!

Astronomers have always been arguing whether Pluto is a planet or not but I think it will always be thought of as a planet.

We have now found two other 'planets' outside Pluto: Sedna and Quaoar. They are both much smaller than Pluto so I think they will not be officially called planets.

Got a question on any of these planets? Ask Mark! »

 

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See also
 

On this site

Astronomy index

Ask the astronomer

International Space Station

Make a rocket

Make a sundial

New Planet

Planet Jupiter

Planet Mars

The Moon

Planets Pluto, Neptune and Uranus

Planet Saturn

Planet Venus

The Star of Bethlehem

The Sun

Your questions answered

Venus passes in front of the Sun

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On the rest of the web

Norwich Astronomical Society

Breckland Astronomical Society

North Norfolk Astronomical Society

NASA for kids

Inspire Science Centre


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