School: Raffles Institution
School Year: Secondary 1
Target: Rings and Moons
Saturn's rings and its moons, Mimas, Tethys and Enceladus have always been a topic of speculation.
The age and origin of the most extensive rings in the solar system is a mystery. Most research suggests that a constant influx of micrometeoroids over a time period of 3.8 to 4.5 billion years should have substantially darkened Saturn's rings but surprisingly, they have a pure white appearance which seems to suggest otherwise. Detailed pictures of Saturn's rings will help scientists solve the puzzling paradox of their age and appearance. The rings are made up of countless snowballs of various sizes which in any given region, orbit Saturn with almost exactly the same velocity. Mysterious spokes have been seen in Saturn's rings which might form and disperse over a few hours. Most scientists believe these spokes might be composed of electrically charged sheets of dust size particles created by small meteors or electron beams from the planets lightning. Cassini's powerful equipment on board can send important data about the formation of these spokes.
Mimas, one of the most heavily cratered moons of Saturn, is tidally locked with its parent. It would be interesting to find out why the force needed to make Hershel, a crater that is nearly 1/3 the size of Mimas did not break the moon into pieces. Mimas also has a lower temperature compared to Enceladus despite being closer to Saturn. Being the innermost moon it creates a large gap, the Cassini division in the rings of Saturn and also affects the outer edge of the "A" ring due to resonance interactions with ring particles. As such interactions are fairly common in the solar system further studies would help reveal more about the evolution of the solar system.
Tethys is an icy body with a density of 0.98 gm/cc. Condensed ice give the moon a very high albedo. There are darker regions that may be rich in organic chemicals like methane and ammonia, the building blocks for primitive life. New data may offer insight into how a similar but warmer environment on the surface of the earth might have given rise to primordial life.
Enceladus is one of the most intriguing and enchanting moons of Saturn. It is thought to have an ocean of liquid water in contact with mineral rich rock and the three building blocks necessary for life; liquid water, essential chemicals for biological processes and sources of energy for living things. Hydrothermal activity on its ocean floor could also support life. Since target 1 includes a clear view of Enceladus it will allow scientists to investigate how liquid water spewed out of the 101 geysers from a 5 mile deep reservoir found in Enceladus, forms Saturn's E ring and how long the E ring will last. This will also help to ascertain how much mass is leaving Enceladus and making its way into Saturn's orbit. Understanding the distribution of water in these icy worlds will help us determine how moons and other solar bodies were formed.