Year: 2015-16

Grade: 10


New Delhi, India

Target: Rings and Moons

"To learn more about Saturn, it is essential to study its moons and its rings closely. For the past several centuries, ever since Huygens' 1655 discovery of Titan, even though we have acquired a great deal of information about Saturn and its moons, there are giant leaps yet to be made. Examining three major moons of Saturn: Tethys, Mimas and Enceladus, along with Saturn's rings in one view, will, therefore, be one step forward in broadening our horizons regarding the subject.

Consider Mimas, a moon that is most well known for looking similar to the Death Star from Star Wars. This is primarily due to the Herschel Crater, which has a diameter one-third of that of the moon. As of now, we can only speculate about its formation - many believe that the necessary impact should have shattered the moon. This leads to further questions, for example, did the crater-forming impact perhaps leave mineral deposits behind, or some other clue as to its origins? This anomaly makes it arguably Cassini's most interesting target. Tethys is similarly fascinating; though its surface consists mainly of water ice, infrared imaging reveals darker patches mixed in with it. This naturally raises further questions: how did they get there? What are they made of? How did Tethys attain its current water-ice-rich composition in the first place - is there a natural cause that missions could perhaps exploit to mine water? Enceladus is perhaps the most promising prospect, with an actual ocean of liquid water beneath its icy surface, and geysers spewing out this water all around the surface. But these geysers have become less efficient in the past decade, releasing up to 50% less water; the reason is currently unknown. All these factors contribute to making these moons some of the most exciting prospects in space exploration till date.

The relative distance between these celestial bodies can also be determined. Furthermore, calculations of the angles between the moons and the rings, when juxtaposed with previously acquired data, may allow us to analyse the perturbation of the orbits of the moons. Since Mimas and Enceladus are in close proximity in Target 1, we may learn about their resonance. Considering that it has been suspected that Tethys contributes to the E-ring and that it is well established that Enceladus contributes to E-ring, the target could help us fathom the interaction of the moons with the E-ring and Saturn's magnetosphere. We can also extend the research to learn about the perturbation of orbits of other moons due to Mimas.

The recent findings of Enceladus' underground ocean and Tethys' newly formed red arcs are evidence enough that there are innumerable discoveries yet to be made and that we should be persistent in our efforts to learn about Saturn and its moons. We have come to discover that even though Saturn, the Jewel of the Solar System, is billions of miles away from Earth, the knowledge we acquire everyday due to meticulous research is bridging the gap of space and time."

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