Moons of the Jovian Planets

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  • 0:02 The Jovian Moons
  • 0:35 Saturn & Titan
  • 1:49 Neptune & Triton
  • 2:58 Jupiter & Ganymede
  • 3:40 Uranus & Miranda
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will introduce you to four well-known Jovian satellites called Titan, Triton, Miranda, and Ganymede. You'll be able to appreciate how vastly different just four of the hundreds of moons in our solar system are.

The Jovian Moons

Our planet, Earth, has one moon. One! That's it. The Jovian planets, the so-called gas giants in our solar system - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune - have over 100 moons between them. That's quite a lot!

Reasonably, there's no way we can possibly cover all the interesting details of all of their moons. So, to give you an idea of the similarities and differences of these strange and mysterious Jovian satellites, we'll pick one interesting moon from each planet instead in this lesson.

Saturn and Titan

Saturn's largest moon and the solar system's second largest moon is known as Titan. Titan is larger than the planet Mercury, but has a lower density. Consequently, it's likely made up of a mixture of ice and rock. But, what's pretty cool about Titan is that, unlike Mercury, it has a thick atmosphere with a funky chemical composition of nitrogen, with a bit of argon and methane.

Titan's atmosphere is 120 miles deep. Since that number alone doesn't mean much, I'll put it into perspective for you. It's ten times the depth of our Earth's troposphere. It's so dense, that at high noon, it's 1/1,000th as bright on Titan as it is on Earth. Such an atmosphere can be retained by Titan for two main reasons. It's massive and cold enough to hold on to heavy gases.

What's even cooler is that we've actually been on Titan! Not humans, but a lander called Huygens. Huygens' images have revealed to us that liquids once flowed on the surface of Titan, likely composed of methane or ethane, and that methane rain occurred fairly recently.

Neptune and Triton

Equally crazy in its composition to Titan is Neptune's largest satellite, Triton. Triton is the only satellite other than Titan that has an atmosphere. However, its nitrogen and methane atmosphere is much thinner than that of Titan.

Triton has a very icy surface that lacks any major craters from impacts with other celestial objects. This tells us that Triton's surface is relatively young due to reshaping thanks to tectonic forces.

Like geysers on Earth, there are dark plumes erupting from Triton's surface that hint at the possibility that Triton may have a warm interior that generates them. Or perhaps they form as a result of sunlight warming the surface and producing pockets of gas that escape through cracks in its icy surface.

Even if it does have a warm interior, Triton's surface temperature is freezing cold! It's only 38 K, which is -391 F! That's over three times colder than any temperature ever recorded on Earth.

Jupiter and Ganymede

The largest of Jupiter's moons and the largest moon in the solar system is Ganymede. Ganymede is believed to contain a rocky or metallic core and an icy surface. What's very interesting about Ganymede, as well as one of Jupiter's other moons, Callisto, is that astronomers have noticed they may have liquid water below their icy crusts!

Actually, calculations show that Ganymede may have as much liquid water as Earth! Ganymede also has some grooved terrain on its surface, which indicates that this moon underwent long episodes of geological activity at one point in its history.

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