Tina Cassini



The largest, shining object in Earth's starlit night sky, our Moon has long been the source of mystery, myth, and poetry--a captivating inspiration for those who stare at the sky in wonder. But Earth's Moon is a very real object--the only body beyond our own planet that we have actually set foot upon, leaving our lingering footprints in its distant, alien dust. Earth's Moon has been with us almost from the very beginning, and even though it is our planet's closest companion in space, it has nonetheless managed to keep some of its ancient secrets very well. In September 2015, astronomers released a new study that shed light on Earth's bewitching companion's ancient and secretive past. Although our Moon now appears to be unchanging, as if it has always been exactly the same as it appears now--going through its beautiful and, yet, familiar phases, and controlling our ocean tides--in the distant past, things were actually very different. Despite this oddball moon's many exotic attributes, it actually sports one of the most Earth-like surfaces in our Solar System. Titan may also experience volcanic activity, but its volcanoes would erupt with different ingredients than the molten-rock lava that shoots out from the volcanoes of Earth. In dramatic contrast to what occurs on our own planet, Titan's volcanoes erupt icy water "lava" (cryovolcanism). Titan's entire alien surface has been sculpted by gushing methane and ethane, which carves river channels, and fills its enormous great lakes with liquid natural gas. Earlier infrared data did not have sufficient resolution to separate MK 2 from Makemake's veiling glare. The astronomers' reanalysis, however, based on the more recent HST observations, indicates that much of the warmer surface spotted earlier in infrared light may simply be the dark surface of the companion MK 2.