How Do the Planets Look



The moon is a reflection of the spiritual and emotional forces within us. Always shifting, always changing, it reveals who we are and what we are looking for-especially in the realm of love and romance! In fact, understanding our relationship to the moon is a powerful way to bring us closer to the love relationships we seek. However, it was little Enceladus that gave astronomers their greatest shock. Even though the existence of Enceladus has been known since it was discovered by William Herschel in 1789, its enchantingly weird character was not fully appreciated until this century. Indeed, until the Voyagers flew past it, little was known about the moon. However, Enceladus has always been considered one of the more interesting members of Saturn's abundantly moonstruck family, for a number of very good reasons. First of all, it is amazingly bright. The quantity of sunlight that an object in our Solar System reflects back is termed its albedo, and this is calculated primarily by the color of the object's ground coating. The albedo of the dazzling Enceladus is almost a mirror-like 100%. Basically, this means that the surface of the little moon is richly covered with ice crystals--and that these crystals are regularly and frequently replenished. When the Voyagers flew over Enceladus in the 1980s, they found that the object was indeed abundantly coated with glittering ice. It was also being constantly, frequently repaved. Immense basins and valleys were filled with pristine white, fresh snow. Craters were cut in half--one side of the crater remaining a visible cavity pockmarking the moon's surface, and the other side completely buried in the bright, white snow. Remarkably, Enceladus circles Saturn within its so-called E ring, which is the widest of the planet's numerous rings. Just behind the moon is a readily-observed bulge within that ring, that astronomers determined was the result of the sparkling emission emanating from icy volcanoes (cryovolcanoes) that follow Enceladus wherever it wanders around its parent planet. The cryovolanoes studding Enceladus are responsible for the frequent repaving of its surface. In 2008, Cassini confirmed that the cryovolanic stream was composed of ordinary water, laced with carbon dioxide, potassium salts, carbon monoxide, and a plethora of other organic materials. Tidal squeezing, caused by Saturn and the nearby sister moons Dione and Tethys, keep the interior of Enceladus pleasantly warm, and its water in a liquid state--thus allowing the cryovolcanoes to keep spewing out their watery eruptions. The most enticing mystery, of course, is determining exactly how much water Enceladus holds. Is there merely a lake-sized body of water, or a sea, or a global ocean? The more water there is, the more it will circulate and churn--and the more Enceladus quivers and shakes, the more likely it is that it can brew up a bit of life. In addition, the newly collected data derived from the GRAIL mission helps astronomers redefine the late heavy bombardment--a proposed episode that occurred about 4 billion years ago, during which a heavy shower of projectiles pelted the bodies of the inner Solar System, including Earth and its beloved Moon, creating heavy lunar cratering in the process. The concept of the late heavy bombardment is primarily based on the ages of massive near-side craters that are either within, or adjacent to, dark, lava-flooded basins (lunar maria), that are named Oceanus Procellarum and Mare Imbrium. However, the composition of the material existing on and below the surface of the lunar near-side indicates that the temperatures beneath this area are not representative of Earth's Moon as a whole at the time of the late heavy bombardment. The difference in the temperature profiles may have caused scientists to overestimate the amount of crater-excavating projectiles that characterized the late heavy bombardment. New studies by GRAIL scientists indicate that the size distribution of impact craters on the lunar far-side is a more accurate reflection of the crater-forming history of the inner Solar System than those pock-marking the near-side.