You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘icy’ tag.
Haumea is a dwarf planet located in the Kuiper belt. The little planetoid was discovered in December 2004 by a team of Caltech astronomers. It is about a third the size of Pluto. The team initially called it “Santa” but, in keeping with the IAU’s naming convention for Kuiper belt objects they eventually named the worldlet after a matronly fertility goddess from Hawaiian mythology.
Although Haumea is typical of other dwarf planets in the Oort cloud in that it is a hunk of rock covered with ice, there are a couple of very unique things about the body. Most notably Haumea is shaped like a lozenge (as opposed to being mostly spherical like other planets). Astronomers believe that Haumea has sufficient gravity to overcome the compressive strength of its material. In other words it chould be approximately spherical, however the planet is rotating with such velocity that it has become spindle shaped—like a water balloon thrown in a rifling spiral.
The extreme rapidity of Haumea’s rotation is its other defining characteristic. It rotates more rapidly than any planetlike object with a diameter greater than 100 kilometers. Haumea rotates completely every 3.9 hours so days there are incredibly short (although its huge orbit takes 283 years to complete—so years are long). It is believed that Haumea’s breakneck spin comes from a titanic collision with some other Oort belt object. Haumea’s two dinky moons were probably also created by the impact. Haumea has a large red spot on it–perhaps because of the presence of minerals–or the fractured perturbance left by an impact.
If you wanted to build a vacation home with a truly spectacular view, one of the possibilities you might consider is Jupiter’s moon Amalthea. Discovered in 1892 by the American astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard (who also discovered Barnard’s star) Amalthea was the first Jovian moon discovered by someone other than Galileo Galilei. Amalthea is the largest inner satellite of Jupiter and from its surface Jupiter would appear to take up 46.5 degrees of the sky (from the horizon to directly overhead is 90 degrees). Amalthea is in synchronous rotation around Jupiter and so the planet would always appear in the same part of the sky (provided you were on the right part of the moon). From Amalthea the sun would disappear behind the planet’s bulk for an hour and a half each revolution.
The 66 known Jovian moons are largely named after the lovers and children of Jupiter/Zeus, however Amalthea is an exception: it is named for Jupiter’s step-mother the goat/nymph Amalthea who fed and cared for the young god as he quickly grew to adulthood and whose impervious skin was fashioned into the aegis of the king of the god. The name Amalthea was used for the moon almost since it was discovered but was only formally adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1975.
Amalthea is a strange and mysterious moon which perplexes astronomers. Its irregularly shape is somewhat like a potato and it is covered with deep craters and tall mountains. The surface of the moon is deep red in color (in fact Amalthea is the reddest object in the solar system) however weird bright patches of green appearing on the mountain slopes–the nature of which is unknown. The moon appears to be formed of ice and rubble, but if had formed where it now is during the early days of Jupiter, it would have melted. The moon must have formed elsewhere and been captured by Jupiter—a recent paper speculated that it was originally a Trojan asteroid. Since Amalthea is made of ice and heterogeneous rubble scientists are perplexed at why gravity has not rearranged its into a more spherical shape. Since Amalthea is so close to Jupiter it’s orbit is decaying and it will one day fall into the gas giant (so you may want to get really good insurance on the vacation house I mentioned in the first paragraph).
Mimas is a moon of Saturn. Discovered late in the 18th century by the astonishing Sir William Herschel, Mimas is the smallest (known) astronomical body which is spherical from self-gravitation (here is an explanation of what that means). The moon’s most noteworthy feature is an enormous impact crater named Herschel which is 130 kilometres (81 mi) across–about the same as the distance between New York and Philadelphia. Wikipedia gives some additional dimensions of the crater:
Herschel’s diameter is almost a third of [Mimas’] diameter; its walls are approximately 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) high, parts of its floor measure 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) deep, and its central peak rises 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) above the crater floor.
If you were standing in the crater (which you should not do!) it would be a great broken plain surrounded by cliffs thirteen times taller than the Empire State Building. In the middle you could see a huge mountain slightly shorter than the tallest mountain in North America. Jagged craters and valleys as deep as Lake Baikal would lie around you.
A great series of impact cracks on the opposite side of the moon would seem to indicate that the collision which created Herschel nearly shattered Mimas (which is composed principally of ice).
The moon’s name might be of passing interest to followers of my Deities of the Underworld category. In Greek mythology, Mimas was one of the monstrous sons of Gaia. He was born with snakes for legs and he was clad in full armor. In the Aeneid, Virgil tells the story of how Hephaestus imprisoned Mimas under Vesuvius during Gaia’s great rebellion against the Olympian gods. As the imprisoned giant shakes so to does the area around the Bay of Naples.
As I was researching this article, I was struck by how many moons Saturn has! As a special bonus feature, here is an alphabetic list of Saturn’s named moons (several more remain anonymous): Aegaeon, Aegir, Albiorix, Anthe, Atlas, Bebhionn, Bergelmir, Bestla, Calypso, Daphnis, Dione, Enceladus, Epimetheus, Erriapus, Farbauti, Fenrir, Fornjot, Greip, Hati, Helene, Hyperion, Hyrrokkin, Iapetus, Ijiraq, Janus, Jarnsaxa, Kari, Kiviuq, Loge, Methone, Mimas, Mundilfari, Narvi, Paaliaq, Pallene, Pan, Pandora, Phoebe, Polydeuces, Prometheus, Rhea, Siarnaq, Skadi, Skoll, Surtur, Suttung, Tarqeq, Tarvos, Telesto, Tethys, Thrym, Titan and Ymir.