The 10 weirdest moons in the solar system

All About Space

(Image credit: Future)

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All About Space magazine takes you on an awe-inspiring journey through our solar system and beyond, from the amazing technology and spacecraft that enables humanity to venture into orbit, to the complexities of space science.

All but two of our solar system‘s planets have natural satellites of one sort or another. Earth’s own moon, a beautiful but stark, dead world shaped by ancient volcanoes and countless impact craters, is undoubtedly the most familiar, but it’s far from being the most interesting. Each of the outer solar system’s giant planets is accompanied by a large retinue of satellites, many of which formed at the same time and from the same ice-rich material as the planets that host them. Although far from the sun and starved of solar heat and light, they nevertheless show as much variety as the planets themselves. 

Here, we take a trip to visit some of the strangest and most exciting of these astonishing worlds. Some, such as Jupiter’s Callisto and Saturn’s Mimas, have been frozen solid for billions of years, but bear extraordinary scars from exposure to bombardment from space. Others, such as Saturn’s shepherd moons Pan and Atlas and Neptune’s lonely Nereid, have been affected throughout their history by interactions with their neighbors. Most excitingly, some of these exotic worlds have been heated by powerful tidal forces from their parent planets, triggering phases of violent activity like those which shaped Miranda, Uranus’ Frankenstein moon. In some cases these forces are still at work today, creating fascinating bodies such as Jupiter’s tortured Io and Saturn’s icy Enceladus, whose placid exterior may even hide the greatest secret in the solar system: Extraterrestrial life itself.

Enceladus

Plumes of water can be seen bursting out of fissures at the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. (Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Since NASA’s Cassini probe arrived at Saturn in 2004, the ringed planet’s small inner satellite, Enceladus, has become one of the most intensely studied and debated worlds in the entire solar system. It owes its newfound fame to the discovery of huge plumes of water ice erupting into space along fissures in its southern hemisphere — a sure sign of liquid water lurking just beneath the moon’s thin, icy crust.