Cassini Iapetus NASA



Imagine, a frigid, distant shadow-region in the far suburbs of our Solar System, where a myriad of twirling icy objects--some large, some small--orbit our Sun in a mysterious, mesmerizing phantom-like ballet within this eerie and strange swath of darkness. Here, where our Sun is so far away that it hangs suspended in an alien sky of perpetual twilight, looking just like a particularly large star traveling through a sea of smaller stars, is the Kuiper Belt--a mysterious, distant deep-freeze that astronomers are only now first beginning to explore. Makemake is a denizen of this remote region, a dwarf planet that is one of the largest known objects inhabiting the Kuiper Belt, sporting a diameter that is about two-thirds the size of Pluto. In April 2016, a team of astronomers announced that, while peering into the outer limits of our Solar System, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) discovered a tiny, dark moon orbiting Makemake, which is the second brightest icy dwarf planet--after Pluto--in the Kuiper Belt. Some astronomers think that the two gas-giants do not sport solid surfaces secreted beneath their immense and heavy gaseous atmospheres, although others suggest that the jumbo-size duo do, indeed, harbor relatively small cores of rocky-icy stuff. The two other large inhabitants of the outer limits of our Sun's family are Uranus and Neptune, which are both classified as ice-giants, because they harbor large icy cores secreted deep down beneath their heavy, dense gaseous atmospheres which, though very massive, are not nearly as heavy as the gaseous envelopes possessed by Jupiter and Saturn. Titan's atmosphere is approximately 95% nitrogen. However, in a way that dramatically differs from Earth's own mostly-nitrogen atmosphere, Titan's atmosphere has very little oxygen. Indeed, the remainder of Titan's atmosphere is almost entirely composed of methane--along with small qunatities of other gases, such as ethane. At the extremely cold temperatures that are found at Saturn's great distance from the heat of our Star, Titan's methane and ethane can accumulate on its icy surface to form pools of liquid.