A terrestrial planet is a planet which is mostly composed of silicate rocks. The term is derived from the Latin word for Earth, "Terra", so an alternate definition would be that these are planets which are, in some notable fashion, "Earth-like". Terrestrial planets are substantially different from gas giants, which may not have solid surfaces and are composed mostly of some combination of hydrogen, helium, and water —existing in various physical states. Terrestrial planets all have roughly the same structure: a central metallic core, mostly iron, with a surrounding silicate mantle. The Moon is similar, but lacks an iron core. Terrestrial planets have canyons, craters, mountains, and volcanoes.
Earth's solar system has four terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. At one time there were probably many more terrestrials, but most have been ejected from the solar system or otherwise destroyed. Only one terrestrial planet, Earth, is known to have an active hydrosphere.
NASA is considering a proposed project called the Terrestrial Planet Finder, which will be capable of detecting terrestrial planets outside of our solar system (orbiting other stars). One suspected terrestrial planet has been discovered orbiting Mu Arae. All other known extrasolar planets are extremely large, and are most likely to be gas giants.
|The Solar System|
|Sun | Mercury | Venus | Earth (Moon) | Mars | Asteroids|
|Jupiter | Saturn | Uranus | Neptune | Pluto | Kuiper belt | Oort cloud|
|See also astronomical objects and the solar system's list of objects, sorted by radius or mass|