Only recently have space missions begun to solve this beguiling Solar System mystery--that a small number of distant moons have been successfully hiding, from the curious eyes of astronomers, life-sustaining liquid water beneath secretive shells of ice.
Galilean Moons Of Jupiter. One dark, clear January night in 1610, Galileo Galilei climbed to the roof of his house in Padua. He looked up at the sky that was speckled with the flickering fires of a multitude of starry objects, and then aimed his small, primitive "spyglass"--which was really one of the first telescopes--up at that star-blasted sky above his home. Over the course of several such starlit, clear winter nights, Galileo discovered the four large Galilean moons that circle around the largest planet in our Sun's family, the enormous, gaseous world, Jupiter. This intriguing quartet of moons--Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto--were named for four of the numerous mythic lovers of the King of the Roman gods.
There was a time when Earth had no Moon. About 4.5 billion years ago, when our ancient Solar System was still forming, the dark night sky above our primordial planet was moonless. At this time, the Earth was about 60 percent formed, although it did have a differentiated crust, mantle, and core. This was a very chaotic and violent era in our Solar System's past, with planets first forming out of blobs of primordial dust, gas, and rock. During this era, frequently likened to a "cosmic shooting gallery", collisions between the still-forming planets were commonplace. Orbits were not as orderly as they are now.