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The need to comprehend and explain our origins--the world of natural phenomena--cannot be properly viewed as exclusively scientific. Instead, it should be viewed as something generally human. Through enchanting, magical narratives involving super-human heroes and heroines, as well as anthropomorphic gods and goddesses, ancient pre-scientific societies attempted to explain and make some order out of the mysterious complexities of the Cosmos. Earth's Moon has always held a place of special fascination for our species, inspiring our human imagination to escape its troubling limitations and--as we search beyond our Earthbound lives--help us to move towards an understanding of who we are, in all our human complexity. Therefore, ancient gods and goddesses mimic our bewitching Moon's unending, gentle tug on the forces of life. In this sense, it may be detrimental to completely dismiss these ancient myths--ascribing them to an unsophisticated and archaic past.
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However, it was little Enceladus that gave astronomers their greatest shock. Even though the existence of Enceladus has been known since it was discovered by William Herschel in 1789, its enchantingly weird character was not fully appreciated until this century. Indeed, until the Voyagers flew past it, little was known about the moon. However, Enceladus has always been considered one of the more interesting members of Saturn's abundantly moonstruck family, for a number of very good reasons. First of all, it is amazingly bright. The quantity of sunlight that an object in our Solar System reflects back is termed its albedo, and this is calculated primarily by the color of the object's ground coating. The albedo of the dazzling Enceladus is almost a mirror-like 100%. Basically, this means that the surface of the little moon is richly covered with ice crystals--and that these crystals are regularly and frequently replenished. When the Voyagers flew over Enceladus in the 1980s, they found that the object was indeed abundantly coated with glittering ice. It was also being constantly, frequently repaved. Immense basins and valleys were filled with pristine white, fresh snow. Craters were cut in half--one side of the crater remaining a visible cavity pockmarking the moon's surface, and the other side completely buried in the bright, white snow. Remarkably, Enceladus circles Saturn within its so-called E ring, which is the widest of the planet's numerous rings. Just behind the moon is a readily-observed bulge within that ring, that astronomers determined was the result of the sparkling emission emanating from icy volcanoes (cryovolcanoes) that follow Enceladus wherever it wanders around its parent planet. The cryovolanoes studding Enceladus are responsible for the frequent repaving of its surface. In 2008, Cassini confirmed that the cryovolanic stream was composed of ordinary water, laced with carbon dioxide, potassium salts, carbon monoxide, and a plethora of other organic materials. Tidal squeezing, caused by Saturn and the nearby sister moons Dione and Tethys, keep the interior of Enceladus pleasantly warm, and its water in a liquid state--thus allowing the cryovolcanoes to keep spewing out their watery eruptions. The most enticing mystery, of course, is determining exactly how much water Enceladus holds. Is there merely a lake-sized body of water, or a sea, or a global ocean? The more water there is, the more it will circulate and churn--and the more Enceladus quivers and shakes, the more likely it is that it can brew up a bit of life.
"For the smallest craters that we're looking at, we think we're starting to see where the Moon has gone through so much fracturing that it gets to a point where the porosity of the crust just stays at some constant level. You can keep impacting it and you'll hit regions where you'll increase porosity here and decrease it there, but on average it stays constant," Dr. Soderblom continued to explain to the press on September 10, 2015.
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"Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth," commented Dr. Linda Spilker in the April 13, 2017 NASA Press Release. Dr. Spilker is Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
The nitrogen that exists in Titan's atmosphere indicates that it likely formed early in our Solar System's 4.56 billion-year-old history. This means that Titan probably was born within the same cold disk of gas and dust that gave birth to our Sun (protostellar nebula), instead of forming in the warmer disk that eventually created Saturn.
It was on April 26, 2016, that the team of astronomers, using observations from the HST taken in April 2015, announced their discovery of the small, dark 160-kilometer moon circling Makemake at a distance of 21,000 kilometers. The Kuiper Belt is the frigid twilight home of several known dwarf planets, and some of these distant icy worlds have known moons--however the moon that belongs to Makemake marks the first discovery of a companion object to Makemake. Makemake is one of the quintet of dwarf planets recognized by the IAU.