NASA Comet Rosetta Trajectory GIF space log blog august 2015 Rosetta GIF NASA Comet Trajectory

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Ganymede: Ganymede is both the largest moon of Jupiter, our Solar System's planetary behemoth, as well as the largest moon in our entire Solar system. Observations of Ganymede by the HST in 2015 suggested the existence of a subsurface saline ocean. This is because patterns in auroral belts and rocking of the magnetic field hinted at the presence of an ocean. It is estimated to be approximately 100 kilometers deep with a surface situated below a crust of 150 kilometers.



This important measurement was made using Cassini's INMS instrument, which detects gases with the goal of determining their composition. INMS was designed to sample the upper atmosphere of Saturn's large, smoggy moon Titan. However, after Cassini's surprising discovery of a tall plume if icy spray erupting from cracks on Enceladus in 2005, planetary scientists turned its detectors to that small moon.



Vast regions of dark dunes also extend across Titan's exotic landscape, especially around its equatorial regions. Unlike Earth's sand, the "sand" that creates Titan's dunes is composed of dark grains of hydrocarbon that resemble coffee grounds. The tall linear dunes of this misty moisty moon-world appear to be quite similar to those seen in the desert of Namibia in Africa. Because Titan's surface is pockmarked by relatively few impact craters, its surface is considered to be quite young. Older surfaces display heavier cratering than more youthful surfaces, whose craters have been "erased" by resurfacing. This resurfacing is caused by processes that cover the scars left by old impacts as time goes by. Our own planet is similar to Titan in this respect. The craters of Earth are erased by the ongoing processes of flowing liquid (water on Earth), powerful winds, and the recycling of Earth's crust as a result of plate-tectonics. These processes also occur on Titan, but in modified forms. In particular, the shifting of the ground resulting from pressures coming from beneath (plate tectonics), also appear to be at work on this veiled moon-world. However, planetary scientists have not seen signs of plates on Titan that are analogous to those of our own planet.

Earlier infrared data did not have sufficient resolution to separate MK 2 from Makemake's veiling glare. The astronomers' reanalysis, however, based on the more recent HST observations, indicates that much of the warmer surface spotted earlier in infrared light may simply be the dark surface of the companion MK 2.



Several possibilities could provide an answer as to why the moon would have charcoal-black surface patches, even though it is circling a dwarf planet that is as bright as freshly fallen snow. One theory that has been suggested proposes that, unlike larger objects such as Makemake, its own little companion moon is so small that it cannot gravitationally keep a grip onto a bright and icy crust, which then sublimates, undergoing a sea-change from solid to gas under the melting influence of warming sunlight. This would make the little moon akin to comets and other KBOs, many of which are well-coated with very dark material.



Like our own Earth, Titan's atmosphere is mainly made up of nitrogen--but with the added ingredient of a small amount of methane. It is the only other world in our Solar System that is actually known to have a cycle of liquids that shower back down to the surface again, in Titan's case as large, lazy drops of hydrocarbon rain. The clouds of Titan pour torrential rains of gasoline down to the surface of this tormented moon. Even though the ingredients are different, this cycle is similar to our own planet's water cycle. Many planetary scientists propose that Titan contains a subsurface ocean of sloshing liquid water.

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