Saturn’s moons have such a variety of environments between them that you’d be forgiven for wanting to spend an entire mission just looking at its satellites. From the orangy, hazy Titan to the icy plumes emanating from Enceladus, studying Saturn’s system gives us plenty of things to think about.
Not only that, the moon discoveries keep on coming. As of April 2014, there are 62 known satellites of Saturn (excluding its spectacular rings, of course). Fifty-three of those worlds are named. While this sounds like a large number of satellites, there’s another planet that has even more — Jupiter, with 67 to its name.
Most of these moons are pretty small ones, just a few miles across, but on the other hand there are larger ones such as the moon Titan. Below are descriptions of some of the more prominent moons.
All descriptions of the moons below are based on information from NASA.
Titan: The only Saturn moon that has ever had a probe land on it: Huygens, a lander carried to the hazy world by the spacecraft Cassini. Titan’s “Earth-like processes” and thick atmosphere are among the things that make this world stand out to scientists. Ethane and methane rains from the atmsophere and flows on the surface.
Enceladus: An extremely reflective moon because it is made up of water ice. It’s also quite cold at minus 330 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 201 degrees Celsius). The moon has at least five different kinds of terrain, a “young” geological surface of less than 100 million years, and a possible liquid interior. The moon is also known for its ice plumes.
Rhea: Rhea has at least two major sections: bright craters with craters larger than 25 miles (40 kilometers), and a second section with smaller craters. “This difference may indicate there was a major resurfacing event some time in Rhea’s history,” NASA stated.
Mimas: Some people jokingly call it a “Death Star” because of the crater in its surface that resembles the machine from the Star Wars universe. The 88-mile (140-kilometer) Herschel Crater is about a third the diameter of the moon itself. The huge impact also could have created fractures (chasmata) on the moon’s opposing side. There are in fact craters throughout the moon’s small surface, making it among the most pockmarked in the Solar System.
Pan: Considered a “shepherd satellite” as it orbits within the Encke Gap of Saturn’s A ring and keeps the gap from being filled in with ring material. Its motions also make stripes (“wakes”) in the rings on either side of it. Pictures obtained at a distance show it looks something like a walnut.
Tethys: An airless moon that has a huge impact crater (called Odyssey Crater, 250 miles or 400 kilometers in diameter) — about two-fifths of Tethys’ diameter. It also has a large valley called Ithaca Chasma, which is 62 miles (100 kilometers) wide.
Dione: A moon that appears to have spun about 180 degrees, perhaps due to a large impact. It’s covered in canyons, cracking and craters and is coated from dust in the E-ring that originally came from Enceladus.
This article reports on the discovery of Saturn’s 60th moon, and here’s a photograph that contains three of Saturn’s moons all in the same image. There also might be a moon in formation in Saturn’s rings.
For more information on Saturn, its moons and the Cassini mission: