The Solar System Solar System Formation The Inner Planets The Outer Planets Inner and Outer Planets Planets Table 20 Largest Objects
Differences between the Inner and Outer Planets
Orbiting the Sun are eight planets. The four planets closest to the Sun are known as the Inner Planets, or the Terrestrial Planets. These planets are Mercury, Earth, Venus and Mars. The four planets furthest from the Sun are known as the Outer Planets, or the Gas Giants. These planets are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Separating the Inner Planets from the Outer Planets is the Asteroid Belt, a region of thousands of asteroids in orbit of the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Although no planet is the same as each other, each of the Inner Planets share several similarities with the other Inner Planets while each of the Outer Planets have plenty of things in common with their fellow Outer Planets. But the Inner Planets don't have many similarities with the Outer Planets. Below is a table detailing the differences between the two groups of planets.
|THE INNER PLANETS
Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars
|THE OUTER PLANETS
Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune
Earth is the largest of the Inner Planets, with a diameter of 12,756 km (7,926 miles). Mercury is the smallest with a diameter of 4,878 km (3,031 miles)
Jupiter, the largest planet, has a diameter of 142,984 km (88,846 miles). Neptune is the smallest of the Outer Planets with a diameter of 49,532 km (30,779 miles)
|Have solid surfaces and thin/no atmospheres
In theory, it would be possible to stand on each of the Inner Planets, although you would only survive on Earth.
|Balls of gas with no surface
Most of the Outer Planets are made of gas. It is likely that they have a much smaller solid or liquid centre. It would be impossible to stand on any of the Outer Planets.
The size and composition of the planets is caused by the density of the elements that make up the planets. The elements in the Inner Planets are more closely packed together, causing them to be smaller and solid.
Despite being larger, the elements that make up the Outer Planets are less densely packed together causing them to be quite light for their size.
The contents of the atmospheres of the Inner Planets varies from planet to planet. Mercury has no atmosphere although Sodium and Helium can be detected above the surface. Venus' atmosphere is mostly Carbon Dioxide with a very small amount of Nitrogen. Earth's atmosphere is mostly Nitrogen with a smaller amount of Oxygen and even smaller amounts of other gases. Mars has a similar composition of carbon dioxide and nitrogen as Venus although has a much thinner atmosphere.
The atmospheres of the Outer Planets consist mostly of Hydrogen and Helium, with Methane also being present in the atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune. Other gases are present although in much smaller quantities.
|Known by the ancients
The existence of the Inner Planets has been known about for thousands of years. The earliest astronomers didn't know that the four objects (including Earth) were planets, but they knew they existed.
|Not known by the ancients
Of the Outer Planets, only Jupiter and Saturn were observed by ancient astronomers. The existence of Uranus and Neptune was not known until relatively recently. Uranus was discovered in 1781 and Neptune in 1846.
Compared to the much larger Outer Planets, the Inner Planets spin quite slowly. Earth spins the quickest, taking 23 hours and 56 minutes to spin on its axis. Venus takes 243 days to spin on its axis, spinning in an opposite direction to the other planets.
All of the Outer Planets spin quicker than the Inner Planets. Uranus spins slowest, taking 17 hours and 14 minutes to spin on its axis. Jupiter takes only 9 hours and 55 minutes to spin on its axis. This rapid rotation causes Jupiter and Saturn to appear squashed, wider across the equator than from top to bottom.
|Orbit the Sun quickly
Because they are quite close to the Sun, the Inner Planets complete an orbit quickly. Mercury takes only 88 days to orbit the Sun. Mars takes 687 days.
|Orbit the Sun slowly
The Outer Planets orbit the Sun from millions of miles and have a much greater distance to cover to complete an orbit, so take much longer to do so. Jupiter takes almost 12 years to complete an orbit and Neptune takes over 164 years.
Only Earth and Mars have moons orbiting them. One moon orbits Earth and two small moons orbit Mars.
|Lots of Moons
All of the Outer Planets have many moons orbiting them. There are 63 moons known to orbit Jupiter, 60 orbiting Saturn, 27 orbiting Uranus and 13 orbiting Neptune.
None of the Inner Planets have rings orbiting them
All of the Outer Planets have rings orbiting them. The rings are thin discs of dust and rocks possibly caused by moons being broken up or not being completely formed while orbiting the planet. Saturn has the most visible ring system of any of the planets.
|Multiple space craft visitors
Due to being close to Earth, there have been several missions to the other Inner Planets, especially to Mars and Venus. Mercury has been visited by two spacecrafts.
|All Outer Planets visited by one space craft
There have been multiple visits to Jupiter and Saturn, but Uranus and Neptune have only been visited once. This was by Voyager 2 (which also visited Jupiter and Saturn).
Here's a video which features information from the table above