Titan is Drifting Away from Saturn Surprisingly Quickly

Titan in front of Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Titan in front of Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Where did Saturn’s bizarro-moon Titan form? Did it form where it is now, or has it migrated? We have decades of data to look back on, so scientists should have some idea.

A new study based on all that data says that Titan is drifting away from Saturn more quickly than thought, and that has implications for where the moon initially formed.

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Astronomers Find 20 – Yes 20 – New Moons for Saturn

A collage of Saturn (bottom left) and some of its moons: Titan, Enceladus, Dione, Rhea and Helene. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The reign of Jupiter, named after the father of the Olympian gods, has been long and sweet. Aside from being the largest planet in the Solar System, it was this gas giant that demonstrated in the 17th century that planets other than Earth can support a system of moons. Between its size, powerful magnetic field, and system of 79 moons, Jupiter looked set to remain the king of the planets indefinitely.

But it looks like Saturn, named after the father of Jupiter in Greco-Roman mythology, might have just knocked Jupiter off that pedestal. Thanks to a team led by famed astronomer Scott S. Sheppard 20 new moons have been discovered orbiting Saturn. That brings the total number of Saturnian (or Cronian) satellites to 82, putting it ahead of Jupiter’s 79. And the best part? You can help name them!

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Enceladus Causes Snowfall On Other Moons of Saturn

Stunningly beautiful Enceladus has a subsurface ocean. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Radar evidence shows that geysers on Enceladus are ejecting water that turns to snow. The snow not only falls back on Enceladus’ surface, but also makes its way to its neighboring moons, Mimas and Tethys, making them more reflective. Researchers are calling this a ‘snow cannon.’

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Here’s Hubble’s Newest Image of Saturn

The latest view of Saturn from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captures exquisite details of the ring system — which looks like a phonograph record with grooves that represent detailed structure within the rings — and atmospheric details that once could only be captured by spacecraft visiting the distant world. Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 observed Saturn on June 20, 2019, as the planet made its closest approach to Earth, at about 845 million miles away. This image is the second in a yearly series of snapshots taken as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) project. OPAL is helping scientists understand the atmospheric dynamics and evolution of our solar system's gas giant planets. In Saturn's case, astronomers will be able to track shifting weather patterns and other changes to identify trends. Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL Team

Hubble has captured a new image of Saturn that makes you wonder if it’s even real. The image is so crisp it makes it look like Saturn is just floating in space. Which it is.

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This is Why Saturn’s Rotation is So Hard to Measure

Like all gas giants, Saturn does not have a "surface" per se, but it does have many layers with different compositions. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

For a rocky planet, finding the length of a day can be simple. Just pick a reference point and watch how long it takes to rotate out of view, then back into view. But for planets like Saturn, it’s not so simple. There are no surface features to track.

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Stunning Image Shows How Saturn’s Tiny Moon Sculpts the Planet’s Rings

This image of the tiny moon Daphnis, only about 8km in diameter, is an enhanced-color mosaic. Daphnis is creating three waves in the outer edge of the Keeler gap. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The Cassini mission to Saturn ended a year and a half ago, but scientific results are still coming from all of the data it collected. When Cassini moved in closer to Saturn in its final months, it took a very detailed look at the gas giant’s rings, travelling between them and the planet itself. That detailed inspection raised quite a few questions about all the interactions shaping those rings.

A new paper published in Science presents some of the results from Cassini’s close-up look at the rings.

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Mimas Pushes Through Saturn’s Rings Like a Snowplow

Saturn's rings and moons have been the subject of scientific debate. A 2019 study showed that the migration of Saturn's moons has widened the Cassini Division in Saturn's rings. Image Credit: Cassini, Dante, Baillié and Noyelles

Saturn’s moon Mimas is the smallest of the gas giant’s major moons. (Saturn has 62 moons, but some of them are tiny moonlets less than 1 km in diameter.) Two new studies show how Mimas acted as a kind of snow-plow, widening the Cassini division between Saturn’s rings.

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Saturn’s Rings are Only 10 to 100 Million Years Old

Saturn's rings in all their glory. Image from the Cassini orbiter as Saturn eclipsed the Sun. Image Credit: By NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
Saturn's rings in all their glory. Image from the Cassini orbiter as Saturn eclipsed the Sun. Image Credit: By NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

Can you imagine the Solar System without Saturn’s rings? Can you envision Earth at the time the dinosaurs roamed the planet? According to a new paper, the two may have coincided.

Data from the Cassini mission shows that Saturn’s rings may be only 10 to 100 million years old. They may not have been there during the reign of the dinosaurs, and may in fact be a fairly modern development in our Solar System.

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Saturn is Losing its Rings, Fast. They Could be Gone Within 100 Million Years

This portrait looking down on Saturn and its rings was created from images obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Oct. 10, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/G. Ugarkovic

It has been almost forty years since the Voyager 1 and 2 missions visited the Saturn system. As the probes flew by the gas giant, they were able to capture some stunning, high-resolution images of the planet’s atmosphere, its many moons, and its iconic ring system. In addition, the probes also revealed that Saturn was slowly losing its rings, at a rate that would see them gone in about 100 million years.

More recently, the Cassini orbiter visited the Saturn system and spent over 12 years studying the planet, its moons and its ring system. And according to new research based on Cassini’s data, it appears that Saturn is losing its rings at the maximum rate predicted by the Voyager missions. According to the study, Saturn’s rings are being gobbled up by the gas giant at a rate that means they could be gone in less 100 million years.

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Being Cassini. Experience What It Was Like to Fly Past Jupiter and Saturn and Their Moons

Europa and Io move across the face of Jupiter, with the Great Red Spot behind them. Image: NASA/JPL/Cassini, Kevin M. Gill
Europa and Io move across the face of Jupiter, with the Great Red Spot behind them. Image: NASA/JPL/Cassini, Kevin M. Gill

What would it be like to be onboard the Cassini orbiter as it made its way around Jupiter and Saturn and their moons? Pretty cool. Now a new video made from Cassini images pieces together parts of that stately journey.

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