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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Mercury globe

Mercury in transit

Messenger's view of Mercury

Venus seen by Mariner 10

Beneath the Venus clouds

Million-mile view of Earth

Earthrise

Global view of Mars

Face on Mars

Hubble sees Jupiter

Jupiterrise

Saturn in all its glory

Saturn poses with Titan

Uranus in 1986

Alien aurorae on Uranus

Neptune

Neptune's rings

Pack your bags. We're going on a tour of the solar system starting at Mercury and flying all the way out to distant Neptune. Along the way, we'll witness an Earthrise, see the glorious rings of Saturn and peer at the enigmatic blue sphere of Uranus.

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun. It's also the smallest in our solar system ever since Pluto got demoted to dwarf-planet status. 

The crater that appears to have lighter rays emanating from its center is called Debussy for the French composer. NASA published this global view of Mercury in 2014.

Caption by / Photo by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie

In 2006, Mercury took some time to transit the sun as seen in this dramatic composite image collected by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft. Mercury's path looks like a dotted line.

Caption by / Photo by NASA/ESA

This colorful view of the Caloris basin on Mercury is a mosaic image created with data from NASA's Messenger spacecraft. Lava flows appear orange. 

Messenger launched in 2004, performed its first flyby of Mercury in early 2008 and went into orbit around the planet in 2011. Messenger ended its mission with a death dive in 2015 when it destroyed itself by impacting the planet's surface. Messenger left behind a fresh crater as a souvenir of its visit.

Caption by / Photo by Picasa

This swirling, color-enhanced image of Venus dates to February 5, 1974. NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft snapped the photo, providing us with the mission's first close-up photo of the second planet from the sun. 

Venus wouldn't make for a great vacation destination. NASA says, "Venus is perpetually blanketed by a thick veil of clouds high in carbon dioxide and its surface temperature approaches 900 degrees Fahrenheit."

Caption by / Photo by NASA

NASA's Magellan probe visited Venus in the early 1990s. This view of the planet's north pole was made possible by cloud-penetrating radar. 

The highest mountain on Venus, called Maxwell Montes, can be seen as a bright splotch below the center of the image. The mountain rises up 6.8 miles (11 kilometers), making it taller than Mount Everest here on Earth.

Caption by / Photo by SSV, MIPL, Magellan Team, NASA

NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (Dscovr) satellite wowed humans in mid-2015 with a fresh view of our Earth from a million miles away

This stunner of a image is also a shout-out to the famous Apollo 17 photo from 1972 known as the Blue Marble. Both feature cloud swirls, visible land masses and the compelling blue hue of the planet's oceans.

Caption by / Photo by NASA

Most humans will never have the chance to visit the moon and look back at our third rock from the sun, but NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter did just that. This image from 2015 shows the Earth rising above the wavy lines of the moon's landscape.

As NASA says, "Earth is the perfect place for life as we know it."

Caption by / Photo by NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

NASA's Viking 1 and 2 orbiters checked out Mars in the 1970s. This dramatic picture of the Red Planet is a mosaic of about 100 VIking images captured in 1980. 

Mars is our most-explored planet beyond our own, which makes it feel larger than life. In reality, it's much smaller than Earth. One year on Mars takes 687 Earth days. 

Caption by / Photo by NASA

NASA's Viking 1 orbiter snapped this iconic photo of the Mars surface on July 5, 1976. The play of shadows, the low resolution of the image and an issue with the spacecraft's data transmission combine in a way that makes it look like there's a face staring up. 

NASA notes, "The speckled appearance of the image is due to missing data, called bit errors, caused by problems in transmission of the photographic data from Mars to Earth." Those speckles play into the face-like look of the formation. 

NASA later revisited the same spot. Newer images show a weathered natural land form with no hint of an alien face.

Caption by / Photo by NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope turned its impressive eyes to Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun, to take this lovely portrait in 2017. Jupiter, a gas giant, is the largest planet in our solar system.  

NASA describes what we're seeing: "These bands, with alternating wind motions, are created by differences in the thickness and height of the ammonia ice clouds; the lighter bands rise higher and have thicker clouds than the darker bands."

Caption by / Photo by NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (GSFC)

Citizen-scientist Alex Mai enhanced images taken by NASA's Jupiter-visiting Juno spacecraft in 2016 to create this glowing view of the gas giant's south pole. NASA refers to the sunlit image as a "Jupiterrise."

Jupiter has quite the moon collection. In June 2017, astronomers revealed the planet now has 69 known moons.

Caption by / Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Mai

NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured a series of Saturn images in 2016 at a distance of 1.9 million miles (3 million kilometers) from the planet. This wide-angle mosaic portrait shows everything from the expansive rings to the hexagonal jet stream at the north pole. 

Saturn is much bigger than Earth. It takes 29 Earth years to complete an orbit around the sun. Like Jupiter, Saturn also has quite a few moons with a total of 62.

Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 and is scheduled to destroy itself by plunging into the planet's atmosphere in September 2017.

Caption by / Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn's moon Titan reigns as the largest of the planet's 62 moons. This Cassini spacecraft view from 2015 shows the hulking ringed planet with the smaller form of Titan in front. 

Cloudy Saturn, a gas giant, isn't a hospitable place, but Titan is still a candidate to potentially host alien life. 

Caption by / Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft caught sight of Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, in 1986 and sent back this luminous, blue-hued view. According to NASA, Uranus is a cold and windy place with 13 very faint rings and 27 small moons.

Astronomer Johan Elert Bode discovered the ice giant in 1781 with the help of a telescope. 

Caption by / Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech

Uranus's faint rings are on display in this image that also shows bright auroras on the ice giant. The picture is a combination of images from NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft and observations from the Hubble Space Telescope. 

While Uranus is often mocked for its humorous-sounding name, the planet is named after a Greek god of the sky. 

Caption by / Photo by ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Lamy / Observatoire de Paris

Neptune, like Uranus, is an ice giant. It's also the farthest planet from the sun in our solar system. This image comes from NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft, which captured the view in 1989. The dark area was a huge spinning storm known fittingly as the Great Dark Spot. The lighter areas are cloud formations. 

It takes Neptune 165 years to complete one orbit around the sun. The planet's distinctive blue color comes from atmospheric methane. 

Caption by / Photo by NASA

NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft gave us our first decent views of far-distant Neptune. This image, taken in 1989, clearly shows the planet's two main rings. "Neptune's atmosphere extends to great depths, gradually merging into water and other melted ices over a heavier, approximately Earth-size solid core," says NASA.

Neptune is an incredibly windy place. It also hosts the frigid moon Triton, which orbits the planet in the opposite direction of its other moons. 

Caption by / Photo by NASA/JPL
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