NASA Cassini Space Probe



Earth's mysterious large Moon is our nearest neighbor in space, dominating our clear night sky with its beguiling and bewitching cold golden glow. Earth's Moon is the only body beyond our planet that we have visited, leaving our footprints embedded in its alien dust. Despite its close proximity to our planet, our mysterious Moon has still managed to keep some ancient secrets from us very well. However, in October 2014, using data derived from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, a team of planetary scientists announced that they may have solved a lunar mystery almost as old as our Moon itself. A moon is defined as a natural satellite that orbits a larger body--such as a planet--that, in turn, orbits a star. The moon is kept in its position both by the gravity of the object that it circles, as well as by its own gravity. Some planets are orbited by moons; some are not. Some dwarf planets--such as Pluto--possess moons. In fact, one of Pluto's moons, named Charon, is almost half the size of Pluto itself, and some planetary scientists think that Charon is really a chunk of Pluto that was torn off in a disastrous collision with another object very long ago. In addition, some asteroids are also known to be orbited by very small moons. Several possibilities could provide an answer as to why the moon would have charcoal-black surface patches, even though it is circling a dwarf planet that is as bright as freshly fallen snow. One theory that has been suggested proposes that, unlike larger objects such as Makemake, its own little companion moon is so small that it cannot gravitationally keep a grip onto a bright and icy crust, which then sublimates, undergoing a sea-change from solid to gas under the melting influence of warming sunlight. This would make the little moon akin to comets and other KBOs, many of which are well-coated with very dark material.