The Solar System[a] is the gravitationally bound system of the planets and the Sun plus other objects that orbit it, either directly or indirectly.[b] Of the objects that orbit the Sun directly, the largest eight are the planets,[c] with the remainder being smaller objects, such as dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies. Of the objects that orbit the Sun indirectly, the moons, two are larger than the smallest planet, Mercury.[d]
The Solar System also contains smaller objects.[e] The asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, mostly contains objects composed, like the terrestrial planets, of rock and metal. Beyond Neptune's orbit lie the Kuiper belt and scattered disc, which are populations of trans-Neptunian objects composed mostly of ices, and beyond them a newly discovered population of sednoids. Within these populations are several dozen to possibly tens of thousands of objects large enough that they have been rounded by their own gravity. Such objects are categorized as dwarf planets. Identified dwarf planets include the asteroid Ceres and the trans-Neptunian objects Pluto and Eris.[e] In addition to these two regions, various other small-body populations, including comets, centaurs and interplanetary dust clouds, freely travel between regions. Six of the planets, at least four of the dwarf planets, and many of the smaller bodies are orbited by natural satellites,[f] usually termed "moons" after the Moon. Each of the outer planets is encircled by planetary rings of dust and other small objects.
Andreas Cellarius's illustration of the Copernican system, from the Harmonia Macrocosmica (1660)
For most of history, humanity did not recognize or understand the concept of the Solar System. Most people up to the Late Middle Ages–Renaissance believed Earth to be stationary at the centre of the universe and categorically different from the divine or ethereal objects that moved through the sky. Although the Greek philosopher Aristarchus of Samos had speculated on a heliocentric reordering of the cosmos, Nicolaus Copernicus was the first to develop a mathematically predictive heliocentric system. In the 17th century, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton developed an understanding of physics that led to the gradual acceptance of the idea that Earth moves around the Sun and that the planets are governed by the same physical laws that govern Earth. The invention of the telescope led to the discovery of further planets and moons. Improvements in the telescope and the use of unmanned spacecraft have enabled the investigation of geological phenomena, such as mountains, craters, seasonal meteorological phenomena, such as clouds, dust storms and ice caps on the other planets.