Category Archives: Moons

Saturn’s moon Mimas may have an underground ocean – or just a weird core

Mimas, a cold, icy, and tiny moon of Saturn, may have a liquid water ocean below its heavily cratered surface. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

Mimas, a cold, icy, and tiny moon of Saturn, may have a liquid water ocean below its heavily cratered surface. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

It wasn’t that long ago that Earth was thought to be the only place in the Solar System capable of having liquid water oceans, but now we know of several moons that do as well, including Europa and Enceladus, and likely Titan and Ganymede as well. In all these cases, the oceans are below ground, similar to ocean water below ice sheets at the Earth’s poles. Now there is yet another moon which might be added to this special list: Saturn’s moon Mimas.

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Has Cassini seen the birth of a new Saturnian moon?

Image from the Cassini spacecraft showing the disturbances along the edge of Saturn's A ring which are thought to be caused by the formation of a new moon. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Image from the Cassini spacecraft showing the disturbances along the edge of Saturn’s A ring which are thought to be caused by the formation of a new moon. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn has dozens of moons, ranging from the largest, Titan, which is larger than our own Moon, to small asteroid-sized objects. Now it seems that the Cassini spacecraft may have witnessed the formation of yet another moon, actually seeing the process as it is happening.

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Names chosen for two most recently discovered moons of Pluto

The five known moons of Pluto. Credit: IAU

The five known moons of Pluto. Credit: IAU

The names have now been chosen for the two most recently discovered moons of Pluto, it was announced last Tuesday by the The International Astronomical Union (IAU). The fourth and fifth known tiny moons are now known as Kerberos and Styx.

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Does Saturn’s moon Dione also have a subsurface ocean?

The cratered surface of Dione, as seen by Cassini. Did (or does) an ocean lurk beneath the surface? Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

The cratered surface of Dione, as seen by Cassini. Did (or does) an ocean lurk beneath the surface? Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

The outer solar system was once thought to be not much more than a frozen wasteland, at least in terms of the many moons orbiting the gas and ice giant planets. But with the intriguing discoveries made by robotic probes such as Voyager, Galileo and Cassini, we now know differently.

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The three best places in the solar system to look for life (other than Mars)

Europa

Europa. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Not all that long ago, it was considered very unlikely that life could exist anywhere else in the solar system, apart from maybe Mars. A variety of robotic spacecraft missions, however, have changed scientists’ views; there are indeed a handful of other worlds in our own cosmic backyard which it is now known could potentially be habitable after all.

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Does Europa have ‘icy spikes’ on its surface?

Penitentes on the Andes mountains on Earth. Is there something similar on Europa as well? Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Penitentes on the Andes mountains on Earth. Is there something similar on Europa as well?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Europa is a fascinating little world, a moon with an icy crust and a subsurface global ocean. The environment is similar to the ice-covered waters at the Earth’s poles. Now scientists think that there may be another feature which is also found on Earth – huge frozen spikes of ice on the surface.

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New study says Pluto may have up to ten more moons

The five known moons of Pluto in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA / ESA / M. Showalter (SETI Institute)

The five known moons of Pluto in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Credit: NASA / ESA / M. Showalter (SETI Institute)

When Pluto was first discovered, it wasn’t known if it had any moons, and it was already a tiny world itself, smaller than Mercury (which doesn’t have any moons). As of last year however, five moons have been found orbiting Pluto! Now a new study announced today suggests that there may be up to ten more little moons or moonlets keeping Pluto company in the outer fringes of the solar system.

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Waterworlds: the search for life in the outer solar system

It is thought that one or more of the icy moons of the outer solar system could support life.
Credit: NASA Planetary Photojournal

(My first article for AmericaSpace, republished here.)

Until relatively recently, it was thought that the best, or perhaps only, place to look for life elsewhere in the solar system was Mars. The other inner planets were much too hot while the outer gas and ice giants were far too cold – the chances of any kind of life being found, even microbes, was considered extremely unlikely at best.

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Did Saturn lay an egg?

Image of Saturn’s tiny egg-shaped moon Methone taken by the Cassini spacecraft.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Institute

It might seem that way in this new photo released on November 5, 2012, taken by the orbiting Cassini spacecraft, but this is actually the tiny moon Methone. The oblong shape and smooth surface make Methone look more like a huge egg than a moon.

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Life on alien planets may not require a large moon after all

Earth and Moon. Credit: NASA

Ever since a study conducted back in 1993, it has been proposed that in order for a planet to support more complex life, it would be most advantageous for that planet to have a large moon orbiting it, much like the Earth’s moon. Our moon helps to stabilize the Earth’s rotational axis against perturbations caused by the gravitational influence of Jupiter. Without that stabilizing force, there would be huge climate fluctuations caused by the tilt of Earth’s axis swinging between about 0 and 85 degrees…

See Universe Today for the full article.

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