What Cassini's mission revealed about Saturn's known and newly discovered moons

phys.org | 9/5/2017 | Staff
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The Cassini space probe not only visited Saturn as part of its mission, it also revealed many of the planet's moons in stunning detail and showed them to be interesting and unique worlds.

The 20-year mission is coming to an end later this month when the the probe makes its final destructive plunge into Saturn.

Thirteen - Years - Planet - System - Saturn

Thirteen of those years were spent orbiting the ringed planet, the second largest in our Solar System, exploring some of Saturn's 62 moons, seven of which were discovered by Cassini.

Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons, is the only moon in the Solar System with a substantial atmosphere. In fact, Titan's atmosphere is so dense that walking on its surface would be like swimming at the bottom of a pool here on Earth.

Cassini - Titan - Lakes - Clouds - Water

In 2009, Cassini confirmed that Titan has lakes, clouds and rain – a "water" cycle of sorts, but driven by liquid methane. It's so cold on Titan that water forms ice as hard as granite and is the stuff of mountains rather than rivers.

Titan's lakes are mostly found in the northern hemisphere, while mountains loom over Titan's equator, suggesting tectonic and cryovolcanic activity at work. The two dark strips in the image below are dune-filled regions (or sand seas) called Fensal (northward) and Aztlan (southward).

Surprise - Cassini - Mission - Moon - Enceladus

The big surprise for the Cassini mission was discovering that the small moon Enceladus, just 500km across, has all the right stuff for life – water, energy and nutrients, powered by hydrothermal vents deep on the ocean floor.

In 1671 the Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini discovered Saturn's third-largest moon, Iapetus, only to have it briefly disappear before becoming visible again a year later. He surmised that Iapetus might have two contrasting sides - one bright and easy to see, the other so dark to render it invisible.

Centuries - Cassini

More than three centuries later, the Cassini...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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