Unmanned Space Flight



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. "The near-side of the Moon has been studied for centuries, and yet continues to offer up surprises for scientists with the right tools. We interpret the gravity anomalies discovered by GRAIL as part of the lunar magma plumbing system--the conduits that fed lava to the surface during ancient volcanic eruptions," Dr. Maria Zuber explained in an October 1, 2014 NASA Press Release. Dr. Zuber is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge.