NASA Explorer Mission



Among the ringed gas giant planet Saturn's amazing collection of 62 diverse, bizarre, and beautiful moons and moonlets, sometimes one of them just seems to stand out in the crowd. Such a moon is little Methone. Looking like a shiny white egg in Space, and composed of very lightweight fluffy stuff, Methone is less dense than any other known moon or asteroid in our Solar System. In March 2013, astronomers announced at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference held in the Woodlands, Texas, that this strange little 5-kilometer-size moon is one of a batch of Space eggs in orbit around Saturn! Makemake is about a fifth as bright as Pluto. However, despite its comparative brightness, it was not discovered until well after a number of much fainter KBOs had been detected. Most of the scientific hunts for minor planets are conducted relatively close to the region of the sky that the Sun, Earth's Moon, and planets appear to lie in (the ecliptic). This is because there is a much greater likelihood of discovering objects there. Makemake is thought to have evaded detection during earlier searches because of its relatively high orbital inclination, as well as the fact that it was at its greatest distance from the ecliptic at the time of its discovery--in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices. Jupiter is circled by a bewitching duo of moons that are potentially capable of nurturing delicate tidbits of life as we know it. Like its more famous sister-moon, Europa, Ganymede might harbor a life-loving subsurface ocean of liquid water in contact with a rocky seafloor. This special arrangement would make possible a bubbling cauldron of fascinating chemical reactions--and these reactions could potentially include the same kind that allowed life to evolve on our own planet!