Outer Solar System Worksheet

The Solar System formed 4. 6┬ábillion years ago from the gravitational collapse of a giant interstellar molecular cloud. The vast majority of the system’s mass is in the Sun, with the majority of the remaining mass contained in Jupiter. The four smaller inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, are terrestrial planets, being primarily composed of rock and metal. The four outer planets are giant planets, being substantially more massive than the terrestrials. The two largest, Jupiter and Saturn, are gas giants, being composed mainly of hydrogen and helium; the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are ice giants, being composed mostly of substances with relatively high melting points compared with hydrogen and helium, called volatiles, such as water, ammonia and methane. All eight planets have almost circular orbits that lie within a nearly flat disc called the ecliptic.

This important measurement was made using Cassini's INMS instrument, which detects gases with the goal of determining their composition. INMS was designed to sample the upper atmosphere of Saturn's large, smoggy moon Titan. However, after Cassini's surprising discovery of a tall plume if icy spray erupting from cracks on Enceladus in 2005, planetary scientists turned its detectors to that small moon. Vast regions of dark dunes also extend across Titan's exotic landscape, especially around its equatorial regions. Unlike Earth's sand, the "sand" that creates Titan's dunes is composed of dark grains of hydrocarbon that resemble coffee grounds. The tall linear dunes of this misty moisty moon-world appear to be quite similar to those seen in the desert of Namibia in Africa. Because Titan's surface is pockmarked by relatively few impact craters, its surface is considered to be quite young. Older surfaces display heavier cratering than more youthful surfaces, whose craters have been "erased" by resurfacing. This resurfacing is caused by processes that cover the scars left by old impacts as time goes by. Our own planet is similar to Titan in this respect. The craters of Earth are erased by the ongoing processes of flowing liquid (water on Earth), powerful winds, and the recycling of Earth's crust as a result of plate-tectonics. These processes also occur on Titan, but in modified forms. In particular, the shifting of the ground resulting from pressures coming from beneath (plate tectonics), also appear to be at work on this veiled moon-world. However, planetary scientists have not seen signs of plates on Titan that are analogous to those of our own planet. Some of these grads are aware that even if we could travel at warp 9 (Star Trek's imaginary multiplication of the speed of light) that it would take about one hundred thousand years to make the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy and upon return, the earth would be about 1.2 million years older than it is today. But why harp on the small stuff.