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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: October 2009

1 - The planets: their formation and differentiation

Summary

Alphonso, King of Castille, … was ill seconded by the astronomers whom he had assembled at considerable expence (sic)…. Endowed with a correct judgement, Alphonso was shocked at the confusion of the circles, in which the celestial bodies were supposed to move. ‘If the Deity’ said he, ‘had asked my advice, these things would have been better arranged’

(Pierre-Simon Laplace)

Planetary formation

Although this book is concerned with the crusts of the solid bodies in the Solar System, it is necessary to delve a little deeper into the interiors of the planets, to see how the planets themselves came to be formed and why they differ from one another. It is only possible to understand why and how crusts form on planets if we understand the reasons how these bodies came to be there in the first place and why they are all different from one another. Following 40 years of exploration of our own Solar System, the discovery of over 200 planets orbiting stars other than the Sun has brought the question of planetary origin and evolution into sharp focus. The detailed study of planets is in fact a very late event in science and has required the prior development of many other disciplines.

This highlights a basic problem in dealing with planets, at least in our Solar System, that are all quite different, so that it is difficult to extract some general principles that might be applicable to all of them.

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