What Are the Colors of the 8 Planets in Our Solar System?

The colors of the 8 planets in our solar system are mainly determined by composition. For instance, with terrestrial planets, the appearance is grey, but it can also be determined by the main oxidized minerals in the composition.

Besides composition, the atmosphere heavily impacts the color we see because of the way it reflects sunlight and how it is absorbed. Also, the atmosphere dictates the presence of water and vegetation, which change the colors we see from space, as is the case with Earth.

Mercury

Color: Dark gray with a rocky appearance

Mercury is the closest planet to The Sun, so it is difficult to take a clear picture from Earth with the technology we now have. However, spacecrafts can photograph it, as was the case with the MESSENGER probe and Mariner 10. These gave us the most accurate depictions of Mercury’s true colors, which we see in all images of the planet.

Mercury’s surface is covered in craters because of the impact of space rocks, and its color is grey. This is a terrestrial planet made out of iron, silicate rock, and nickel. The atmosphere is made out of several gases, including hydrogen, potassium, calcium, helium, and sodium. The rocky appearance is relevant because it creates different gray variations.

Venus

Color: Grayish/white

Venus’ color depends on the observer’s position. This terrestrial planet features a dense atmosphere with nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. When you are in orbit, you see sulfuric acid clouds. The surface is not visible. As a result, the appearance of the planet is yellowish when viewed from space.

We do not know the exact color of Venus, but we can safely assume it is greyish because of the high presence of igneous basalt and the lack of water or vegetation. The actual color of Venus is hard to figure out because the atmosphere removes blue light. Also, the planet is not as investigated as others.

Earth

Color: Blue with green, yellow, white, and brown

Earth is a terrestrial planet that has an atmosphere rich in nitrogen and oxygen. Blue light scatters more due to the presence of oceans and the atmosphere. Water absorbs red light, thus offering the mostly blue appearance we see from space, naming it The Blue Marble.

Besides the overwhelming blue color, we also see clouds and vegetation areas, which lead to different colors for different areas, including green (where enough vegetation is present), brown (mountains), white (ice formations), and yellow (deserts). Earth’s atmosphere is unique in The Solar System, resulting in a distinctive combination of colors.

Mars

Color: Red

Mars is the one planet that most people get right when discussing its color. This is, in part, due to it being featured in so many science fiction movies. Because Mars is close to Earth and has a thin atmosphere, we can see it clearly even without space exploration. Even before space travel was invented, scientists were able to see and determine its appearance.

We now know that Earth is quite similar to Mars. There are similar weather patterns and compositions present. Most of Mars is reddish-brown. This is because of the iron oxide present on the surface. Polar ice caps do exist at the poles, so some white is seen there.

Jupiter

Color: Brown and orange with white bands

Jupiter’s banded appearance made out of brown and orange with white bands is well-known. The planet is a gas giant with an outer layer filled with helium, hydrogen clouds, and other elements. These all move at a very high speed.

White and orange appear because of chromophores, which are colorful compounds changing colors as they are hit by UV light coming from The Sun. Chromophores are made out of hydrocarbons, phosphorus, or sulfur, based on the colors that appear.

Special Note: While the main colors of Jupiter are brown and orange, 16 colors can be seen: metallic silver, royal wine, metallic titanium grey, starlight blue, matte silver, starlight blue, midnight black, pristine white, mystic gold, matte blue, volcano red, titanium grey, autumn brown, walnut brown, sunlit ivory, and indi blue.  

Saturn

Color: Pale gold with red and white bands

Saturn’s appearance is banded, just like Jupiter’s, but the planet has a lower density. As a result, the bands are wider, closer to the equator, and fainter.

Saturn is mainly made out of hydrogen and helium. This creates deep red clouds. Also, there are ammonia clouds close to the outer atmosphere edges. Because of the presence of ammonia and UV radiation, the color white appears. Combine this with deep red, and you get pale gold.

Uranus

Color: Blue-Green

Uranus is an ice and gas planet made out of helium, hydrogen, water, hydrocarbons (low amounts), hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia. The color of the planet is given by the presence of methane, which leads to the appearance of green. The cyan coloring sometimes noticed is because of the near-infrared visible spectrum coupled with band absorption.

We should add that the only highly-detailed photographs of the planet were taken in 1986, during the mission of Voyager 2.

Neptune

Color: Azure Blue

Neptune looks similar to Uranus and has a similar composition. The difference is the presence of more ammonia and methane. This, together with the lack of illumination coming from The Sun, creates a darker blue color.

Another difference between Neptune and Uranus is that Neptune has visible and active weather patterns. This includes the Great Dark Spot, which is a visible storm. Mars has a similar phenomenon that makes it look like there is a spot with a different color.

What Color Is The Sun?

Color: White

Most people think The Sun is orange, yellow, or red. In reality, The Sun is made out of all colors. We see this combination as white. When taking pictures from space, it is easy to see the white color of The Sun.

During sunrise or sunset, The Sun seems red, orange, or yellow. Our eyes see that because the short-wavelength colors (like violet, blue, and green) end up scattered by the atmosphere. Just oranges, yellows, and reds manage to go through the atmosphere.

All energy and light forms are parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. The human eye can only detect a tiny part of the energy, which is what we mean when we say “visible light.” This phenomenon can lead to different misunderstandings, like the color of The Sun. There are many different light waves that we cannot see.

What Color Is Pluto?

Color: Varied

Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. Both he and other astronomers thought they discovered the ninth planet in our solar system. While we no longer catalog it as a planet, we still do not know much about it because of the vast distance between Earth and Pluto.

The New Horizon missions made it easier to know what Pluto looks like. We thus learned that Pluto has very high contrast. Its colors vary from white to dark orange and charcoal black.

Summary

At the end of the day, we have to understand that light can play tricks on us. The colors that we see might not be the true ones. This is what often happens with the colors of the planets. For years, scientists did not know the exact color of the planets, and even now, there are doubts.

It seems that the most surprising thing for most people is finding out that The Sun is not yellow. However, many are also surprised by the appearance of other planets in our solar system, such as Venus and Neptune. 

Featured Image by: “The New Solar System” by tonynetone is licensed under CC BY 2.0