Nature / Science

Moons of our Solar System

Moon (Photo: Sanni Sahil)

Right from a young age we are fascinated and talk about only one moon, the one which revolves around the earth. With the exception of Mercury and Venus, all other planets and asteroids have moons. A very close proximity to the Sun and its gravity makes it impossible for Mercury to have it’s own satellite, while it is not very clear why Venus is also devoid of any satellites. In fact, there are about 200 moons in the solar system. Saturn and Jupiter have the most number of moons and our moon is a relative  newbie as it originated more than 30Ma after the solar system came into being. It is also much further away from the earth than before. 

Moons, natural satellites come in varied sizes and some are known to have atmospheres and possibly oceans underneath their surfaces. Moons of our solar system fall into 2 main categories: regular satellites- ones which have small orbits, revolve round the planet in circular orbits close to the equatorial plane of the planet,  examples are moon orbiting Earth, satellites orbiting Pluto etc. These satellites are tightly bound to the planets as the gravitational pull exerted by the planets is stronger than the gravitational force of the central star. For these satellites the gravitational pull of the planet is  While the irregular satellites have large orbits, are inclined in relation to the equatorial plane of the planet. A total of 145 irregular satellites have been discovered so far and these orbits around Uranus, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune.

Saturn (Photo: Reimund Bertrams)

Saturn has 53 moons orbiting around it and one of them, Titan even has its own atmosphere. Titan is the largest satellite of Saturn and is as big as planet Mercury. Along with an atmosphere which is mainly made of Nitrogen, it also has rivers, lakes and seas. It also rains on Titan and resembles Earth’s atmosphere in many aspects and has seasons similar to ours. However, it is not yet known whether it supports any life. Titan takes about 16 days to rotate Saturn and one day to rotate on its own orbit. Earth’s moon takes about 27.3 days to rotate Earth. Moons are also known to have moons, however it is not known if Titan has any of these moons. In order to understand more about the atmosphere of Titan, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made at least 100 flybys with  Huygen’s probe attached to it. Huygen’s landed on the surface of Titan in 2005. It took the spacecraft 2 hours and 27minutes to touch the surface. It transmitted data to Cassini for 72 minutes before losing contact. It transmitted important information about the atmosphere of Titan, superrotating winds, origins of nitrogen atmosphere amongst others. Presence of methane and nitrogen have given rise to complex compounds such as propylene and hydrogen cyanide. Given how similar this moon is to our planet, scientists are wondering if this can be a potentially habitable place. For me personally, I never knew nor did I ever even think that a moon can potentially hold life!

Royalty free images were used.

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