NASA Medal Exceptional Public Service



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! This gigantic "King of Planets" is considered by some astronomers to be a "failed star". It is about as large as a gas giant planet can be, and still be a planet. It is composed of approximately 90% hydrogen and 10% helium, with small amounts of water, methane, ammonia, and rocky grains mixed into the brew. If any more material were added on to this immense planet, gravity would hug it tightly--while its entire radius would barely increase. A baby star can grow to be much larger than Jupiter. However, a true star harbors its own sparkling internal source of heat--and Jupiter would have to grow at least 80 times more massive for its furnace to catch fire. A moon is defined as a natural satellite in orbit around another body that, in turn, is in orbit around its Star. The moon is kept in its position by both its own gravity, as well as its host's gravitational grip. Some planets have many moons, some have only a small number, and still others have none at all. Several asteroids inhabiting our Solar System are circled by very small moons, and some dwarf planets--such as Pluto--also host moons.