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Moons and Rings: Our Favorite Things

Black and white image showing craters in a string on the Moon.
A northwest-trending string of secondary craters on the Moon formed by debris thrown out from a larger impact. Image taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/ Arizona State University.

We find beauty in the night sky. Objects that attract the most attention include our brilliant Moon, and Saturn with its delicate rings. Our attraction to these objects has led many to study them in greater detail, and discover the beauty in scientific exploration.

Rings of Destruction!
A new scientific model suggests
Saturn's rings formed from the
shredding of an ancient moon's outer
envelope before it finally collided
with Saturn.
Rings of Destruction!

As we've studied the moons, we've revolutionized our understanding of Earth and its place in the solar system. Craters on our Moon have demonstrated that, far from being perfect and unchanging, the planets and moons have undergone violent transformations over time. Galileo's observations of the Earth's moon and the moons orbiting Jupiter helped overturn the Earth-centered universe, and gave birth to the modern process of science.

But discoveries didn't end there. Today, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter studying the Moon and the Cassini mission in orbit around Saturn are uncovering new evidence that challenges our current views of Earth and the solar system. We've found signs of volcanic pits beneath the lunar surface, and oceans beneath the icy surface of distant Enceladus. Scientists are amazed at ice volcanoes on Titan, and delighted by new models showing how a large moon may have shed its outer icy layers to form the rings of Saturn. (For further information, check out the YSS topic Volcanism).

Join us in this topic as we study the beauty of our own Moon, the timeless dance of the Galilean moons as they orbit Jupiter, and the dazzling rings of Saturn. Learn more about these fascinating objects through multimedia resources, conduct hands-on activities to model their properties and discover how beautiful science can be!

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Last Updated: 12 Sep 2014