Hey hey, folks. Good morning. It’s Friday, which, this week, is a bit sad. It means it’s almost the end of the winter holidays again. Wait until next year. It’s been a good week, though, and I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself, too, been able to treat yourself to something you enjoy.
Tonight is also the seventh night of Hanukkah, so let’s get right into the second best on the top eight moons of 2016! This is also a good spot for our on-again-off-again Friday Photo!
If you’ve been following along, you know how much I love the planet Saturn. See… this is where things maybe get a little cloudy, because just yesterday I told you I love Neptune, and a couple of days before, I was swooning over Uranus’s moons. Saturn holds a special place for me because it was the Voyagers’ photos of Saturn in 1980 that made the lights come on, and I haven’t looked away from the skies since. I still remember reading about it’s, at the time, twelve moons, and being amazed if for nothing else that it could have so many, and have those gorgeous rings without things going completely haywire.
As of today, though, Saturn doesn’t have 12 moons; we’ve found 62, and all kinds of crazy things really do happen there all the time. There are big moons, little moons, the watery moon Enceladus, moons that keep the rings straight. There’s Mimas, which is tiny but looks a lot like the Death Star. There’s even Epimetheus and Janus, two small moons that more or less share the same orbit.
Don’t leave out Iapetus, which such a strange place for lots of reasons that there’s even some thinking that it may have had a ring system of its own. Stop and think about that for a minute. There’s moon in the Saturn system—the planet that has the giant, glorious rings, extending for hundreds of thousands of miles from the cloud tops over its equator—that may have had its own rings at some time. Try to imagine what that must have been like. Iapetus, let it be said, also has a big crater that makes it kind of look like the Death Star. Mimas can’t have all the fun.
If you’ve got the time, Saturn’s got the moons. There are truly fewer places that have more exciting and interesting things to discover and read about than in the Saturn system. Ever since the Cassini probe got there in 2004, the things we’ve learned and the photography we’ve seen has been hard to believe.
When it came time to write this post, though, I decided to keep things a little less obscure. Titan is the second biggest moon in the solar system. It’s so big that it, as with Jupiter’s Ganymede, is bigger the planet Mercury. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time really understanding how big those two giant planets are.
You know, they’re big. Sure, Earth is smaller, I get it. It takes the idea that they’re so big that they’re able to have planet-sized moons with them, and still be positively gigantic alongside them to put their size into some context. For comparison, the Moon is the biggest moon in the solar system relative to the planet it orbits. It’s about 2100 miles (3500 km) across. Mercury’s quite a bit bigger, about 3000 miles (5000 km) across. Titan and Ganymede are bigger than Mercury and are tiny next to their planets, as you can see in the photo below, from Cassini and NASA. Wow.
The big thing about Titan, as most people know, is it has a thick and dense atmosphere, mostly made of nitrogen, with some methane and hydrogen. The Huygens probe, which was dropped into that atmosphere in 2005 found methane rain there. There’s even liquid methane on the surface, which makes it only the only place other than Earth where there’s liquid on the surface.
It’s really an amazing place. That atmosphere is thought to help kick up some complex processes with organic compounds that, in a lot of ways make it look like a very young Earth. There’s no water there, but it’s interesting to think of it as a place where life could exist. Here on Earth we think about life as needing and being carried by water. That’s true, and on Earth, where there’s water, there’s life. So, it makes sense that we’d be looking for and excited about places with water. The possibility of life as we know it in those places would seem to be higher. A place like Titan, though, could change the way we think about, and about what life needs.
Maybe we, the water-lovers, are the weirdos. Maybe methane, or cyanide, or sulfur, or melted vanilla ice cream, who knows, is the thing that brings life around the universe. Maybe water works, too, but it’s seas of methane, like those on Titan, that are full of life. Maybe looking for life as we know it doesn’t really tell the whole story. Maybe the life-as-we-don’t-know-it story is the big one.
It’s things like these that make Titan one of the most inspiring places in the solar system, and I get excited by it every time I see some news about it. Here’s to the #2 moon on our list, Saturn’s giant moon, Titan!
Tune in tomorrow for the top moon of 2016. What could it be? What could it be? What could it be?! Until then, clear skies, everyone!