NASA Chief Engineer



Have you ever wondered what may be the purpose of the moon? Well, the moon is the shiny beacon that lights up the night as the sun lights up the day. This amber body is quite shy and doesn't always show itself, but when it does, the moon's brilliance overpowers the darkness. The surface of the moon inspires astronomers around the globe who religiously watch as our incandescent orb passes serenely through its natural cycle, but if you are an avid planet observer you will come to realise that the reflecting light from the moon through the telescope lens may interfere with your ability to clearly view even our closest planets. For this reason many planet watches believe the new moon cycle is the perfect time to catch a glimpse of another world. At last, on July 1, 2004, the Cassini spacecraft fired off its breaking rocket, glided into orbit around Saturn, and started taking pictures that left scientists in awe. It wasn't as if they hadn't been prepared for such wonders. The weeks leading up to Cassini's arrival at Saturn had served to intensify their already heated anticipation. It seemed as if each approach-picture taken was more enticing than the one preceding it. There are over 100 moons dancing around the eight major planets of our Sun's family. Most of them are small, frozen, icy objects, harboring only a relatively scanty amount of rocky material, that circle around the quartet of giant gaseous planets that dwell in the outer, frigid realm of our Solar System--far from the comforting warmth and brilliance of our Star. The quartet of majestic, giant denizens of our outer Solar System--Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune--are enveloped with gaseous atmospheres, and orbited by a multitude of dancing, sparkling moons and moonlets. In marked contrast, the inner region of our Solar System--where our Earth dwells--is almost bereft of moons. Of the quartet of relatively petite, rocky "terrestrial" planets--Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars--only Earth is circled by a large Moon. Mercury and Venus are moonless, and Mars is orbited by a duo of tiny, lumpy, potato-shaped moons, Phobos and Deimos. Phobos and Deimos are probably escaped asteroids, born in the Main Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, that were captured by the gravitational embrace of the Red Planet long ago.