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Astronomy Picture of the Day
Index - Solar System: Saturn's Moons

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Editor's choices for the most educational Astronomy Pictures of the Day about Saturn's Moons:

Thumbnail image.  Click to load APOD for this date. APOD: 2006 February 15 - Rotating Titan in Infrared Light
Explanation: Titan is one of the strangest places in our Solar System. The only moon known with thick clouds, this unusual satellite of Saturn shows evidence of evaporating lakes created by methane rain. The clouds that make Titan featureless in visible light have now been pierced several times in infrared light by the robot Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn. These images have been compiled into the above time-lapse movie. Like Earth's Moon, Titan always shows the same face toward its central planet. It therefore takes Titan about 16 days to complete one rotation. Titan has numerous areas of light terrain with some large areas of dark terrain visible near the equator. Small areas of brightest terrain might arise from ice-volcanoes and have a high amount of reflective frozen water-ice. Titan's surface was imaged for the first time early last year by the Huygens probe, which survived for three hours on a cold and sandy dark region.

Thumbnail image.  Click to load APOD for this date. APOD: 2005 March 8 - Crater on Mimas
Explanation: Whatever hit Mimas nearly destroyed it. What remains is one of the largest impact craters on one of Saturn's smallest moons. The crater, named Herschel after the 1789 discoverer of Mimas, Sir William Herschel, spans about 130 kilometers and is pictured above in the dramatic light of its terminator. Mimas' low mass produces a surface gravity just strong enough to create a spherical body but weak enough to allow such relatively large surface features. Mimas is made of mostly water ice with a smattering of rock - so it is accurately described as a big dirty snowball. The above image was taken during the 2005 January flyby of the robot spacecraft Cassini now in orbit around Saturn.

Thumbnail image.  Click to load APOD for this date. APOD: 2005 September 6 - Fresh Tiger Stripes on Saturns Enceladus
Explanation: The tiger stripes on Saturn's moon Enceladus might be active. Even today, they may be spewing ice from the moon's icy interior into space, creating a cloud of fine ice particles over the moon's South Pole and creating Saturn's mysterious E-ring. Recent evidence for this has come from the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. Cassini detected a marked increase in particle collisions during its July flyby only 270 kilometers over a South Polar region of Enceladus. Pictured above, a high resolution image of Enceladus is shown from the close flyby. The unusual surface features dubbed tiger stripes are visible on the left in false-color blue. Why Enceladus is active remains a mystery, as the neighboring moon Mimas, approximately the same size, appears quite dead.

Thumbnail image.  Click to load APOD for this date. APOD: 2006 May 30 - Ancient Craters on Saturn's Rhea
Explanation: Saturn's ragged moon Rhea has one of the oldest surfaces known. Estimated as changing little in the past billion years, Rhea shows craters so old they no longer appear round their edges have become compromised by more recent cratering. Like Earth's Moon, Rhea's rotation is locked on Saturn, and the above image shows part of Rhea's surface that always faces Saturn. Rhea's leading surface is more highly cratered than its trailing surface. Rhea is composed mostly of water-ice but is thought to have a small rocky core. The above image was taken by the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. Cassini swooped past Rhea two months ago and captured the above image from about 100,000 kilometers away. Rhea spans 1,500 kilometers making it Saturn's second largest moon after Titan. Several surface features on Rhea remain unexplained including large light patches.

Thumbnail image.  Click to load APOD for this date. APOD: 2006 January 3 - Dark Terrain on Saturns Iapetus
Explanation: Why are vast sections of Iapetus as dark as coal? No one knows for sure. Iapetus, the third largest moon of Saturn, was inspected again as the Saturn-orbiting robot Cassini spacecraft swooped past the enigmatic world again late last year. The dark material covers most of the surface visible in the above image, while the small portion near the top that appears almost white is of a color and reflectance more typical of Saturn's other moons. The unknown material covers about half of the 1,500 kilometer wide moon. The material is so dark that it reflects less than five percent of incident sunlight, yet overlays craters indicating that it was spread after the craters were formed. Iapetus has other unexplained features. The bright part of Iapetus is covered with unexplained long thin streaks. The orbit of Iapetus is also unusual, being tilted to the plane of Saturn's orbit by an unusually high fifteen degrees. A strange ridge about 13 kilometers high crosses much of Iapetus near the equator and is visible near the bottom. Oddly, this ridge is almost exactly parallel with Iapetus' equator. The exact shape of Iapetus remains undetermined, but images indicate that it is quite strange -- something like a walnut. Research into the formation and history of mysterious Iapetus is active and ongoing.

Thumbnail image.  Click to load APOD for this date. APOD: 2005 October 12 - Cratered Cliffs of Ice on Saturns Tethys
Explanation: The surface of Saturn's moon Tethys is riddled with icy cliffs and craters. The most detailed images ever taken of Tethys were captured late last month as the robot Cassini spacecraft swooped past the frozen ice moon. The above image was taken from about 32,000 kilometers distant and shows a jagged landscape of long cliffs covered with craters. At the bottom of many craters appears some sort of unknown light-colored substance, in contrast to the unknown dark substance that appears at the bottom of Saturn's moon Hyperion. Tethys is one of the larger moons of Saturn, spanning about 1,000 kilometers across. The density of Tethys indicates a composition almost entirely of water ice. Tethys is thought to have been predominantly liquid sometime in its distant past, creating some of its long ice-cliffs as it cracked during freezing.

Thumbnail image.  Click to load APOD for this date. APOD: 2005 October 26 - 4500 Kilometers Above Dione
Explanation: What does the surface of Saturn's moon Dione look like? To find out, the robot Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn flew right past the fourth largest moon of the giant planet earlier this month. Pictured above is an image taken about 4,500 kilometers above Dione's icy surface, spanning about 23 kilometers. Fractures, grooves, and craters in Dione's ice and rock are visible. In many cases, surface features are caused by unknown processes and can only be described. Many of the craters have bright walls but dark floors, indicating that fresher ice is brighter. Nearly parallel grooves run from the upper right to the lower left. Fractures sometimes across the bottom of craters, indicating a relatively recent formation. The lip of a 60-kilometer wide crater runs from the middle left to the upper center of the image, while the crater's center is visible on the lower right. Images like this will continue to be studied to better understand Dione as well as Saturn's complex system of rings and moons.

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