NASA Screensaver for Vista



Earth's Moon is enchanting; bewitching. The face of the "man"--that some cultures see etched on its brilliant surface--is really composed of the dark areas of the lunar maria (Latin for "seas"), and the lighter highlands of the Moon's surface. Some cultures tell of other examples of strange images seen on the Moon's lovely disk, such as the "Moon Rabbit". 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. Since its discovery centuries ago, Ganymede has been the target of a great deal of well-deserved attention from the planetary science community. Earth-bound telescopes have gazed at Ganymede's puzzling, icy surface and, in later decades, flyby space missions and spacecraft, circling around Jupiter, have scrutinized Ganymede--trying to solve its numerous mysteries. These observations ultimately unveiled a complicated, icy moon-world, whose bizarre surface showed a strange and puzzling contrast between its two main types of terrain: the dark, extremely ancient and heavily cratered surface terrain, and the much younger--but still ancient--lighter terrain showing a vast array of mysterious grooves and ridges.