Stars Zoom Astronomy



The original goal of Cassini-Huygens was to study Saturn and its large, misty, tortured, moon Titan. Titan, the second-largest moon in our Solar System, after Ganymede of Jupiter, is a world long-shrouded in mystery, hiding behind a thick orange veil, and slashed with hydrocarbon lakes and seas. However, there are other enticing moons known to circle the ringed planet. Saturn's mid-sized icy moons (Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Phoebe) are enchanting worlds. Each one of these frozen little moons reveals an interesting and unique geology. So far, Saturn is known to sport 62 icy moons! The three little moons (Methone, Pallene, and Anthe) orbit at very similar distances from Saturn, and they have a dynamical relationship. Mimas disturbs the trio of little moons, and causes the orbit of Methone to vary by as much as 20 kilometers (12.4 miles). Mimas causes the orbit of Pallene to vary by a slightly smaller amount--but it has the greatest influence on the orbit of the moon Anthe. We live in a Cosmic "shooting gallery". Objects inhabiting our Solar System have been profusely and mercilessly blasted by showering asteroids and comets for billions and billions of years. However, planets and large moons have their way of smoothing away the scars--their strong gravity pulls them into a nice ball-like spherical shape. Furthermore, some of these larger spheres possess sufficient internal heat to cause flows of fiery lava and other volcanic features that can fill in the scars of impact craters. A few such large bodies are blasted by strong winds and pouring rains, which also erode away the pockmarks left on their surfaces by showering impactors.