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Newspapers in Education: Love to learn, Lift off! Week five


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

Jupiter: Ocean and clouds but no life allowed

Jupiter is the largest planet in the Solar System.

It has a radius of 43,400.7 miles and is 11 times wider than Earth.

Surrounded by over 50 moons, Jupiter has the shortest day in the Solar System with one day on the planet taking around 10 hours.

When the Solar System formed about 4.5 billion years ago, Jupiter took shape. It settled into its current position, as the fifth planet from the Sun, approximately 4 billion years ago.

It is mostly made up of hydrogen and helium and has the largest ocean in the Solar System, though this ocean is made up of hydrogen rather than water.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Jupiter is the Great Red Spot which is a swirling oval of clouds twice as wide as Earth.

It is thought that the temperatures and pressures on Jupiter would be too extreme for life as we know it.

It was astronomer Galileo Galilei way back in 1610 who, using an extremely early version of the telescope, first observed the planet's four largest moons - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Io is considered to be the most volcanically active body in the Solar System while Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System.

In 1973 Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to cross the asteroid belt and fly past Jupiter, while six years later Voyager 1 and 2 discovered Jupiter's faint rings, new moons and the volcanic activity on Io's surface.

Planet profile: Saturn

Saturn is a spectacular and beautiful planet and the second largest one in our solar system. The bright globe of Saturn is surrounded by rings, some of which you can see from Earth using a telescope.

Like Jupiter, Saturn is a massive ball made up mostly of hydrogen and helium, with its rings made of chunks of ice and rock.

Saturn may rotate in the same direction as Earth, but it does it far faster, spinning around once in just 10.7 hours. But while the days are short, the years are long as Saturn takes 10,756 Earth days to complete one revolution around the sun.

Saturn's rings are fascinating for those who study the solar system. They are believed to be pieces of comets, asteroids or shattered moons that broke up before they reached the planet as they were torn apart by Saturn's powerful gravity.

What happened to Pluto?

By Samantha Rotherham, Education Officer at Armagh Observatory  and Planetarium

Only 11 years ago, one of the biggest arguments in the science community was ongoing: is Pluto too small to be called a planet?

At only two-thirds the size of Earth's moon, Pluto is an icy body on the outskirts of our solar system. It may be small but it is mighty and it didn't take long for the science community to realise that Pluto had fans.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union, a group that decides what objects in space are named, decided that Pluto would be known as a 'dwarf planet' as it was too small and its orbit round the Earth had many objects in its way such as asteroids.

The bigger planets in our solar system have much clearer paths as they have been around for longer and their size helps to clear their path of debris.

So far there are five dwarf planets, called Eris, Makemake, Haumia, Ceres and, of course, Pluto. However, you may not have realised one of the dwarf planets is a little closer to home.

Ceres is located between Mars and Jupiter and is the first dwarf planet to be visited by a spacecraft, called DAWN. It was a mission sent into space by NASA in 2011 to visit the Asteroid Vesta, but it has been orbiting Ceres from 2015.

By taking images of the dwarf planet, DAWN has helped scientists learn more about this special group of planets.

In 2015, NASA's satellite New Horizons reached Pluto after a nine-year mission, allowing the world to see the renowned dwarf planet up close with the first ever detailed images. New Horizons discovered that Pluto was a little bigger than what we expected and that it had a thin Nitrogen atmosphere.

There may be dozens of dwarf planets in our solar system that we haven't spotted yet, and as New Horizons heads further into the outskirts of our solar system, who knows what it will find next?

Yuri Gagarin

Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was an iconic figure. On April 12, 1961, he became the first human in space when he orbited the Earth once during a 108-minute flight.

At the time, the USA and USSR were doing all they could to try and push the boundaries in exploring space.

Over 200 Russian Air Force pilots were chosen as candidates to enter space. Senior Lieutenant Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin, born in 1934, came out on top.

When he re-entered Earth's atmosphere, he experienced forces up to eight times the pull of gravity. Around four miles up from Earth, Gagarin ejected from his spacecraft to land safely.

It was a huge celebration for the Russians when Gagarin created history. He became famous and was an instant worldwide celebrity. Sadly, though, he would die seven years later in a military training flight, aged just 34.

When Apollo 11 made it to the Moon in 1969, US astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left a commemorative medallion bearing the name of Gagarin.

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