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Love to learn, week one: Lift off into outer space

This article has been specially designed and written for thousands of pupils from across Northern Ireland who are doing the Belfast Telegraph cross-curricular project themed on space. Over the next six weeks we will focus on the solar system and influential scientists and astronomers.

The Sun essential to Earth's survival

The Sun is located at the centre of the Solar System which is made up of the Sun, eight planets, their moons, comets and asteroids.

A hot ball of glowing gases, the Sun is a common sized star yet it is so large compared to the planet that we live on that you could fit the Earth inside it one million times.

It was called Sol by the Romans. In English Sol means Sun. That's why our system of planets is called the Solar System.

The Sun, which is one of trillions of stars in the galaxy, and the rest of the Solar System was formed from a giant, rotating cloud of gas and dust called a solar nebular around 4.5 billion years ago.

In terms of mass it is made up mostly of hydrogen (around 71%) and helium (27%). It has a radius of 432, 168. 6 miles and is 93 million miles from Earth.

There are two forms of important energy supplied by the Sun - heat and light. The Sun is essential to Earth's survival as without heat and light all living things on Earth would perish.

The connections between the Sun and Earth are huge. They drive the seasons, ocean currents, weather, climate and more.

With the seasons, they are caused by the Earth's changing relationship to the Sun. The Earth travels or orbits around the Sun every 365 days and as the Earth orbits the Sun the amount of sunlight each place on the planet gets every day changes which causes the different seasons.

There are so many reasons to enjoy the Sun, including when solar flares are ejected and when they interact with Earth's magnetic field they produce magical light shows such as the Aurora Borealis which can be seen in Northern Ireland.

Please remember though that ultraviolet rays that come from the Sun can be harmful. When out in the Sun at home or on holiday always make sure to apply plenty of sun cream, drink lots of water and wear a hat and never look at the Sun directly.

Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa in Italy on February 15, 1564 and became a ground-breaking astronomer who showed the world a new way of thinking about the workings of our solar system.

He was also a physicist, mathematician, philosopher and inventor. He built on the work of others to invent a telescope that observed the skies in ways that had been previously impossible.

He was the first astronomer to use what is now called science to discover more about the Universe including learning that the Moon was not smooth, but covered with craters.

Galileo advanced the work of Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus, who believed Earth was a planet circling the Sun rather than being at the centre of the Universe, which was the widely held view at the time.

In 1632, Galileo wrote a book describing why he thought the Earth orbited the Sun. It caused much controversy with powerful people insisting he was not telling the truth leading to him being sentenced to life in prison. He was later allowed to live at his home under house arrest, before in the years that followed he was found to be correct.

Galileo died on January 8, 1642, and is now regarded as one of the most important and influential figures in astronomy.

Planet profile: Mercury

Mercury may be the smallest planet in the solar system with a diameter of 4,879km but it is the planet which is closest to the Sun.

It is named after the messenger of the Roman gods, who is also known as Hermes in Greek mythology. This is due to the speed in which Mercury orbits round the Sun. Its orbit lasts just 88 days in comparison to Earth's orbit which lasts for 365 days.

Due to the lack of atmosphere, this planet's temperature range is extraordinary. Experts estimate that Mercury can soar to 450°C during the hottest times of day but at night it can go to -180°C.

The first spacecraft to visit Mercury, which looks like the moon, was Mariner 10 which captured images of this fascinating planet in 1974.

The trendiest new solar system in our Universe!

By Kerry Scullion, Education Officer at Armagh Observatory  and Planetarium

Do you fancy an 'out of this world' vacation? Well, the future could hold the answer with the recent discovery of a brand new solar system, Trappist-1 and it is only 229 trillion miles away! Okay so it may not be that close. If we tried to fly to Trappist- 1 with a rocket today it would take us over 40 million years! But if we can find a way to travel at the speed of light, we could reach it in 39 years so there could be hope if some future brain box, perhaps yourself, could built a rocket capable of reaching those whooping speeds!

Why would we want to visit Trappist-1 I hear you ponder? Well, although there are many other solar systems in our Universe, Trappist-1 appears to be a very promising one; one that could possibly contain life! This is the first solar system outside of ours that astronomers have found to have lots of planets; in fact they have found 7 planets going around the strange star at the systems centre. We call these planets, Exoplanets! That's what we call planets found outside our solar system. The star they are orbiting is what we call an Ultra Cool Dwarf Star! No, this does not mean this is the most popular star on the block, but instead, it is a very small star that's colder than normal stars. But it is warm enough that the possibility of liquid water can exist on at least 3 of the systems planets! Liquid water is a key building block for life, it is the reason that we are here on Earth! So if there is liquid water on some of these planets that could mean… ALIENS!

Future Telescopes like the James Webb Space telescope will hopefully be able to find out what is going on these other worlds, but fingers crossed we can travel ourselves there someday as well!

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