Our world's birth story is intertwined with that of its family -- the Earth formed along with the rest of our solar system, 4.5 billion years ago. As we continue to study the planets in our solar system and in far away planetary systems, we are filling in the picture of our own planet's birth.
NASA's Year of the Solar System missions continue to shed new light on the solar system family's birth story, as planetary data and scientific computer models change our views of how our solar system formed. For instance, comets are the "storytellers" from the early solar system, preserving the very stuff from which the solar system family was born. Join NASA in celebrating this topic with demonstrations of how our solar system's formation resulted in planets orbiting the Sun, and activities on the components of our solar system!
NASA's missions are shining a new light on the solar system family's birth story through new discoveries. Missions examining comets (Stardust-NExT and EPOXI, the Sun (Genesis), and Jupiter (Juno) are taking snapshots of the composition of and conditions in the early solar system, which are recorded in these special places. Astronomers are using powerful telescopes (such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope) to observe distant planetary systems in their infancy.
Scientists have been astonished by some of these observations: the discovery of massive gas giants in sizzling orbits right next to their stars and planets in wildly elliptical orbits have forced us to re-evaluate the evolution of our own solar system. Models suggest that our planets were not always in their present order and distance from the Sun; indeed, the giant outer planets' incredible gravitational pulls rearranged our solar system as it was evolving!
More information on comets is available in the topic Small Bodies, Big Impacts, and more on observing distant planets is available under Discovering New Worlds.