Tour every planet in our solar system through NASA images

There are eight planets in our solar system (sorry, Pluto), and each has a unique story. Come visit every one from mini Mercury to mysterious Neptune.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
1 of 17 NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie

Mercury globe

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.

2 of 17 NASA/ESA

Mercury in transit

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.

3 of 17 Picasa

Messenger's view of Mercury

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.

4 of 17 NASA

Venus seen by Mariner 10

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."

5 of 17 SSV, MIPL, Magellan Team, NASA

Beneath the Venus clouds

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.

DSCOVR's view of Earth
6 of 17 NASA

Million-mile view of Earth

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.

NASA Earthrise image
7 of 17 NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University


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."

8 of 17 NASA

Global view of Mars

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. 

9 of 17 NASA

Face on Mars

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.

10 of 17 NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (GSFC)

Hubble sees Jupiter

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."

11 of 17 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Mai


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.

12 of 17 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn in all its glory

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.

13 of 17 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn poses with Titan

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. 

14 of 17 NASA/JPL-Caltech

Uranus in 1986

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. 

15 of 17 ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Lamy / Observatoire de Paris

Alien aurorae on Uranus

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. 

16 of 17 NASA


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. 

Neptune's rings
17 of 17 NASA/JPL

Neptune's rings

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. 

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