Saturn’s Mysterious Moons
Watch in high-resolution 1080p. Launched three years before the new century… a spacecraft wound its way through the empty reaches of the solar system. On Earth, its progress was little noted, as it swung twice by the planet Venus, then our moon. And Earth. The asteroid belt. And Jupiter.
Almost seven years later, on the first of July 2004, the Cassini probe entered the orbit of Saturn. It then began to compile what has become one of the greatest photographic collections of all time, of a giant gas planet, surrounded by colorful rings, guarded by a diverse collection of moons, and millions of tiny moonlets.
Within this record, is a trail of clues… pointing to the energy sources and complex chemistry needed to spawn life. What are these mysterious worlds telling us about the universe, and Earth?
In the outer reaches of the solar system, a billion and a half kilometers from the Sun… there is a little world known as Enceladus. Nearly all of the sunlight that strikes its icy surface is reflected back into space, making it one of the brightest objects in the solar system.
At its equator, the average temperature is minus 198 degrees Celsius. It can rise about 70 degrees higher in grooves that stretch across the south pole like tiger stripes. Looming over it is the giant planet Saturn.
In myth, Saturn – the Roman name for the primal Greek God Chronos – was the youngest son of Gaia, or Earth, and Uranus, sky. Wielding a scythe provided by his mother, the story goes, Saturn confronted his abusive father, castrating him. The blood of Uranus flowed into the seas, fertilizing the Earth and giving rise to Enceladus and other giant offspring.
Saturn’s moon Enceladus has its own tangled story. In 2005, the Cassini spacecraft spotted plumes of water vapor shooting out into space from its south pole.
More recent close encounters have revealed jets of water, flavored by slightly salty chemical compounds, spewing out from vents in the rough, cracked polar terrain. Tha