Hellenistic Culture Astronomy



Until 2004, no spacecraft had visited Saturn for more than twenty years. Pioneer 11 took the very first close-up images of Saturn when it flew past in 1979. After that flyby, Voyager 1 had its rendezvous about a year later, and in August 1981 Voyager 2 had its brief, but glorious, encounter. Nearly a quarter of a century then passed before new high-resolution images of this beautiful, ringed planet were beamed back to Earth. 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. Ganymede, and four other moons dwelling in our Sun's family, possess liquid water beneath their frigid crusts of ice. The others are Saturn's moons, Titan and Enceladus, and two other Galilean moons of Jupiter--Europa and Callisto. Planetary scientists think the oceans of Europa and Enceladus are in contact with rock--thus making these two moons high-priority targets for future astrobiology missions.