Top 10 Extra Lunar Discoveries
March 2, 2016
- Galileo’s Telescope Changes Astronomy Forever - In 1609/1610 Galileo trains his improved telescope on Jupiter and discovers “3 fixed stars” previously unseen, near the Jovian planet. Over the course of the next few weeks Galileo records their movements and notices a fourth bright spot. He discerns that they are in fact celestial bodies in orbit around Jupiter, publishes his controversial work and changes astronomy forever. We now call them the “Galilean moons”.
- The Enlightenment Era of Astronomy – Between 1655 and 1789, 7 of Saturn’s 62 moons were discovered by direct observation through optical, ground-based telescopes and before the advent of photography. Huygens discovers Titan, Cassini discovers Tethys, Dione, Rhea, and Iapetus, and Herschel discovers Mimas and Enceladus.
- Russia Images the Far Side of Our Moon – We’re cheating a little here, but the far side of the Moon may as well belong to another planet since we never see it from Earth. Russia was the first with their Luna 3 space craft which sent back the first images from the far side in 1959. We have come a long way in our imaging capabilities since and have mapped the far side in detail.
- Voyager 1 Journeys Through the Solar System – Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 imaged the Jovian moons Amalthea, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto, showing details of their terrain for the first time and discovered that Io has extremely active volcanoes. It discovered multiple new moons at Jupiter and Saturn and imaged the moons Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, and Rhea at Saturn while studying their interactions with the planet’s ring system.
- Voyager 2 On the Grand Tour – At Jupiter, Voyager 2 imaged Io’s surface and volcanic plumes, and large cracks on the surface of Europa. Using the photopolarimeter that failed on Voyager 1, Voyager 2 studied the ring-moon interactions at Saturn in depth. It discovered 10 new moons at Uranus and 5 at Neptune.
- The Mysterious Mini-Moons of Mars – Discovered by Asaph Hall in August of 1877, Phobos and Deimos are small, irregular shaped Martian satellites that may actually be captured asteroids rather than “proper” moons. Phobos orbits closer to its home planet than any other known moon and whips around the red planet three times a day. 94 years later, NASA’s Mariner 9 Mars orbiter studied and imaged the moons in detail.
- Cassini’s Legacy Lives On at Saturn – One of the most successful spacecraft missions in history besides Hubble, NASA’s Cassini mission has provided humanity with some of the most breath taking planetary images ever and dozens of major scientific discoveries. Carolyn Porco even followed in her colleague Carl Sagan’s footsteps when she orchestrated a new version of the Pale Blue Dot image and invited the world to ‘Wave At Saturn’ as it imaged Earth from behind the ringed planet.
- Huygens Lands on Titan, With Bells and Whistles – Early on in the Cassini mission the spacecraft deployed a probe that landed on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. This was the first and, so far, only landing ever in the outer solar system. The Huygens lander studied Titan’s hazy atmosphere (the reason they needed a lander in the first place), volcanism, dry riverbeds and lakes, and hints of a subsurface ocean that may harbor extraterrestrial life. The team also released this awesome video of the entire descent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUlr8fKI2bc
- Kepler Hunts Exomoons for Signs of Life – Kepler has detected a few thousands potential exoplanets and just confirmed its 1000th, but the search for exomoons is just heating up! With the discoveries made about moons like Enceladus, Europa, and Titan in our own solar system, scientists are beginning to suspect that moons may be where we may find the majority of extraterrestrial life. The Kepler team is currently analyzing a few dozen candidates and refining their methods of detection.
- We Fell in Love All Over Again: New Horizons at Pluto/Charon – We can’t really ask more of 2015’s NASA mission and imaging campaign at Pluto. An underdog story ending with major scientific discoveries, a giant surface feature on the dwarf planet in the shape of a heart, and superbly detailed, history-making images of Charon, Pluto’s largest moon.