Four Out of the Smallest Gas Giant



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. Therefore, even though Enceladus is only Saturn's sixth-largest moon, it is amazingly active. Because of the success of the Cassini mission, scientists now know that geysers spew watery jets hundreds of kilometers out into Space, originating from what may well be a vast subsurface sea. These jets, which erupt from fissures in the little moon's icy shell, whisper a siren's song to bewitched astronomers. This is because the jets suggest that the icy moon may harbor a zone where life might have evolved. The jets dramatically spray water ice from numerous fissures near the south pole, that have been playfully termed "tiger stripes." The "tiger stripes" look like giant scratches made by a tiger's raking claws. The three little moons (Methone, Pallene, and Anthe) orbit at very similar distances from Saturn, and they have a dynamical relationship. Mimas disturbs the trio of little moons, and causes the orbit of Methone to vary by as much as 20 kilometers (12.4 miles). Mimas causes the orbit of Pallene to vary by a slightly smaller amount--but it has the greatest influence on the orbit of the moon Anthe.