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Interesting thoughts!

The Face Behind The Veil. Titan is a little larger than Mercury--the smallest major planet inhabiting our Solar System. Indeed, Titan would have been classified as a major planet in its own right if it orbited our Sun instead of Saturn. The Huygens Probe images lifted the veil from the face of this distant moon-world, revealing a youthful surface that is both smooth and relatively free of impact craters. Huygens also found that this icy, hydrocarbon-saturated moon's climate includes those heavy rains of gasoline, as well as raging, roaring winds. Some of Titan's surface features were found to be hauntingly akin to certain surface features on Earth.



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.



As time passed, the region would have cooled down considerably and contracted--thus pulling away from its surroundings and forming fractures akin to the cracks that form in mud as it becomes dry--but on a considerably larger scale.

A billion years ago, our Moon was closer to Earth than it is now. As a result, it appeared to be a much larger object in the sky. During that ancient era, if human beings had been around to witness such a sight, it would have been possible to see the entire Moon--not merely the one near side face that we see now. A billion years ago, it took our Moon only twenty days to orbit our planet, and Earth's own day was considerably shorter--only eighteen hours long. Stupendous, almost unimaginably enormous tides, that were more than a kilometer in height, would ebb and flow every few hours. However, things changed, as the lunar orbit around our primordial planet grew ever wider and wider. Annually, Earth's Moon moves about 1.6 inches farther out into space. Currently, the lunar rate of rotation, as well as the time it takes to circle our planet, are the same.



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.



The Kuiper Belt is situated beyond the orbit of the beautiful, blue, and banded giant gaseous planet, Neptune--the outermost of the eight major planets of our Sun's family. Pluto is a relatively large inhabitant of this region, and it was--initially--classified as the ninth major planet from our Sun after its discovery by the American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997) in 1930. However, the eventual realization among astronomers that the frozen little "oddball" that is Pluto, is really only one of numerous other icy bodies inhabiting the Kuiper Belt, forced the IAU to formally define the term "planet" in 2006--and poor, pitiful Pluto lost its lofty designation of "major planet" only to be re-classified as a mere minor one--a demoted dwarf planet.

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