College of Visual and Performing Arts
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University


LLI: Giants: The Big Planets of the Outer Solar System

Presented ByLifelong Learning Institute, Manassas
When/WhereTuesday, Apr 07, 2020 10:30amHylton Performing Arts Center, Lg Rehearsal Hall, Science and Technology Campus

Instructor: Dr. James Zimbelman

Our solar system is separated into two types of planets, the inner “rocky” terrestrial planets and the outer “gas giant” planets, with the asteroid belt in between these groups. This lecture will discuss the four giant planets, all of which are much larger than the Earth. The innermost two giants are Jupiter, the largest planet, and Saturn, distinct because of its lovely ring system; these planets are called gas giants because both are comprised primarily of hydrogen and helium, much like the bulk composition of our sun. The outermost giants are Uranus, rotating on its side, and methane-rich Neptune; these planets are called “ice giants” because the interiors of both include zones comprised of materials that would form ice if not inside of these planets. Each of the four is unique, but together they tell us much about what the majority of the recently discovered “exoplanets,” those orbiting other stars, may be like.

James R. Zimbelman is a planetary geologist in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. He has been at the Smithsonian since 1988, conducting research on analysis of spacecraft imaging data of the planets, geologic mapping of Mars and Venus, and investigations of lava flows and sand dunes on planetary surfaces. Dr. Zimbelman is a lecturer on cruises organized by the Smithsonian Journey program and on commercial cruise lines for which the Smithsonian provides lecturers. He has presented several classes for LLI-Manassas.

This event is open to the public. For more information about the Lifelong Learning Institute, Manassas, visit

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