Galilean Satellites:

The Galilean moons are the four largest moons of Jupiter: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. They were first seen by Galileo Galilei in January 1610, and recognized by him as satellites of Jupiter in March 1610. They are the first objects found to orbit another planet. Their names derive from the lovers of Zeus. They are among the largest objects in the Solar System with the exception of the Sun and the eight planets, with radii larger than any of the dwarf planets. Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System, and is even bigger than the planet Mercury. The three inner moons (Io, Europa, and Ganymede) are in a 4:2:1 orbital resonance with each other. Because of their much smaller size, and therefore weaker self-gravitation, all of Jupiter's remaining moons have irregular forms rather than a spherical shape.

The Galilean moons were discovered in either 1609 or 1610 when Galileo made improvements to his telescope, which enabled him to observe celestial bodies more distinctly than ever. Galileo's discovery showed the importance of the telescope as a tool for astronomers by proving that there were objects in space that cannot be seen by the naked eye. More importantly, the incontrovertible discovery of celestial bodies orbiting something other than Earth dealt a serious blow to the then-accepted Ptolemaic world system, or the geocentric theory in which everything orbits around Earth.

Galileo initially named his discovery the Cosmica Sidera ("Cosimo's stars"), but the names that eventually prevailed were chosen by Simon Marius. Marius discovered the moons independently at the same time as Galileo, and gave them their present names, which were suggested by Johannes Kepler, in his Mundus Jovialis, published in 1614. They each have special characteristics related to their formation process, but have the following traits in common:

1) all orbit Jupiter
2) they all are tidally locked to Jupiter
3) they all have radii larger than our Moon
4) the inner moons have densities higher than outer moons (implies that Jupiter was much warmer in the past, such that the moons formed near Jupiter have less of the volatile elements such as CO2 and H2O)


Io (Jupiter I) is the innermost of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter and, with a diameter of 3,642 kilometers, the fourth-largest moon in the Solar System. It was named after Io, a priestess of Hera who became one of the lovers of Zeus. Nevertheless, it was simply referred to as "Jupiter I", or "The first satellite of Jupiter", until the mid-20th century.

With over 400 active volcanos, Io is the most geologically active object in the Solar System. Its surface is dotted with more than 100 mountains, some of which are taller than Earth's Mount Everest. Unlike most satellites in the outer Solar System (which have a thick coating of ice), Io is primarily composed of silicate rock surrounding a molten iron or iron sulfide core.

Although not proven, recent data from the Galileo orbiter indicate that Io might have its own magnetic field. Io has an extremely thin atmosphere made up mostly of sulfur dioxide (SO2). If a surface data or collection vessel were to land on Io in the future, it would have to be extremely tough (similar to the tank-like bodies of the Soviet Venera landers) to survive the radiation and magnetic fields that originate from Jupiter Io can be classified as one of the most unusual moons in our solar system. Its unique properties include:


Europa (Jupiter II), the second of the four Galilean moons, is the second closest to Jupiter and the smallest at 3121.6 kilometers in diameter, which is slightly smaller than the Moon. The name comes from a mythical Phoenician noblewoman, Europa, who was courted by Zeus and became the queen of Crete, though the name did not become widely used until the mid-20th century.

It is one of the smoothest objects in the Solar System, with a layer of water surrounding the mantle of the planet, thought to be 100 kilometers thick. The smooth surface includes a layer of ice, while the bottom of the ice is theorized to be liquid water. The apparent youth and smoothness of the surface have led to the hypothesis that a water ocean exists beneath it, which could conceivably serve as an abode for extraterrestrial life. Heat energy from tidal flexing ensures that the ocean remains liquid and drives geological activity. Life may exist in Europa's under-ice ocean, perhaps subsisting in an environment similar to Earth's deep-ocean hydrothermal vents or the Antarctic Lake Vostok. Life in such an ocean could possibly be similar to microbial life on Earth in the deep ocean. So far, there is no evidence that life exists on Europa, but the likely presence of liquid water has spurred calls to send a probe there.

The prominent markings that criss-cross the moon seem to be mainly albedo features, which emphasize low topography. There are few craters on Europa because its surface is tectonically active and young. Some theories suggest that Jupiter's gravity is causing these markings, as one side of Europa is constantly facing Jupiter. Also, volcanic water eruptions splitting the surface of Europa, and even geysers have been considered as a cause. The color of the markings, reddish-brown, is theorized to be caused by sulfur, but scientists cannot confirm that, because no data collection devices have been sent to Europa. Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and likely has an iron core. It has a tenuous atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Europa is considered a strong candidate to find primitive life. Its characteristics are:


Ganymede (Jupiter III), the third Galilean moon is named after the mythological Ganymede, cupbearer of the Greek gods and Zeus's beloved. Ganymede is the largest natural satellite in the Solar System at 5262.4 kilometers in diameter, which makes it larger than the planet Mercury, although only at about half of its mass since Ganymede is an icy world. It is the only satellite in the Solar System known to possess a magnetosphere, likely created through convection within the liquid iron core.

Ganymede is composed primarily of silicate rock and water ice, and a salt-water ocean is believed to exist nearly 200 km below Ganymede's surface, sandwiched between layers of ice. The metallic core of Ganymede suggests a greater heat at some time in its past than had previously been proposed. The surface is a mix of two types of terrain; highly cratered dark regions and younger, but still ancient, regions with a large array of grooves and ridges. Ganymede has a high number of craters, but many are gone or barely visible due to its icy crust forming over them. The satellite has a thin oxygen atmosphere that includes O, O2, and possibly O3 (ozone), and some atomic hydrogen. Its interesting characteristics are:


Callisto (Jupiter IV) is the fourth and last Galilean moon, and is the second largest of the four, and at 4820.6 kilometers in diameter, it is the third largest moon in the Solar System. Callisto was a daughter of the Arkadian King Lykaon and a hunting companion of the goddess Artemis. It does not form part of the orbital resonance that affects three inner Galilean satellites and thus does not experience appreciable tidal heating. Callisto is composed of approximately equal amounts of rock and ices, which makes it the least dense of the Galilean moons. It is one of the most heavily cratered satellites in the Solar System, and one major feature is a basin around 3000 km wide called Valhalla.

Callisto is surrounded by an extremely thin atmosphere composed of carbon dioxide and probably molecular oxygen. Investigation revealed that Callisto may possibly have a subsurface ocean of liquid water at depths greater than 100 kilometers. The likely presence of an ocean within Callisto indicates that it can or could harbor life. However, this is less likely than on nearby Europa. Callisto has long been considered the most suitable place for a human base for future exploration of the Jupiter system since it is furthest from the intense radiation of Jupiter.

Summary of Galilean Moons:

Fluctuations in the orbits of the moons indicate that their mean density decreases with distance from Jupiter. Callisto, the outermost and least dense of the four, has a density intermediate between ice and rock whereas Io, the innermost and densest moon, has a density intermediate between rock and iron. Callisto has an ancient, heavily cratered and unaltered ice surface and the way it rotates indicates that its density is equally distributed, suggesting that it has no rocky or metallic core but consists of a homogeneous mix of rock and ice.

This may well have been the original structure of all the moons. The rotation of the three inner moons, in contrast, indicates differentiation of their interiors with denser matter at the core and lighter matter above. They also reveal significant alteration of the surface. Ganymede reveals past tectonic movement of the ice surface which required partial melting of subsurface layers. Europa reveals more dynamic and recent movement of this nature, suggesting a thinner ice crust. Finally, Io, the innermost moon, has a sulfur surface, active volcanism and no sign of ice. All this evidence suggests that the nearer a moon is to Jupiter the hotter its interior.

The current model is that the moons experience tidal heating as a result of the gravitational field of Jupiter in inverse proportion to the square of their distance from the giant planet. In all but Callisto this will have melted the interior ice, allowing rock and iron to sink to the interior and water to cover the surface. In Ganymede a thick and solid ice crust then formed. In warmer Europa a thinner more easily broken crust formed. In Io the heating is so extreme that all the rock has melted and water has long ago boiled out into space.


Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the only moon known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object in space other than Earth where clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found.

Titan is the sixth ellipsoidal moon from Saturn. Frequently described as a planet-like moon, Titan is 50% larger than Earth's Moon, and it is 80% more massive. It is the second-largest moon in the Solar System, after Jupiter's moon Ganymede, and is larger than the smallest planet, Mercury, but only 40% as massive. Discovered in 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, Titan was the first known moon of Saturn, and the sixth known planetary satellite (after Earth's Moon and the four Galilean moons of Jupiter). Titan orbits Saturn at 20 Saturn radii. From Titan's surface, Saturn subtends an arc of 5.09 degrees and would appear 11.4 times larger in the sky than the Moon from Earth.

Titan is primarily composed of water ice and rocky material. Much as with Venus before the Space Age, the dense opaque atmosphere prevented understanding of Titan's surface until new information from the Cassini-Huygens mission in 2004, including the discovery of liquid hydrocarbon lakes in Titan's polar regions. The geologically young surface is generally smooth, with few impact craters, although mountains and several possible cryovolcanoes have been found.

The atmosphere of Titan is largely nitrogen; minor components lead to the formation of methane and ethane clouds and nitrogen-rich organic smog. The climate (including wind and rain) creates surface features similar to those of Earth, such as dunes, rivers, lakes, seas (probably of liquid methane and ethane), and deltas, and is dominated by seasonal weather patterns as on Earth. With its liquids (both surface and subsurface) and robust nitrogen atmosphere, Titan's methane cycle is analogous to Earth's water cycle, at the much lower temperature of about 94 K (-179.2C).

Recent images from the Cassini-Huygens mission:

Huygens descent movie

Above is a moasic of three frames taken by the lander as it entered Titans atmoshere. It shows detail of a high ridge area including the flow down a major river channel (liquid methane river) into what appears to be a "wet" plain.

The above image shows the boundary between lighter-colored uplifted terrain and drainage channels into the darker lower areas. This picture was taken from an altitude of 8 kilometers.

Above is a color image from the surface of Titan. Rocks near the bottom are pebble-sized, objects in the middle of the frame are meters in size. The surface is darker than expected, consisting of a mixture of water and hydrocarbon ice. There is evidence of erosion indicating fluid activity in the recent past.

The Cassini-Huygens team concluded that the imaged features are almost certainly the long-sought hydrocarbon lakes, the first stable bodies of surface liquid found outside of Earth. Some appear to have channels associated with liquid and lie in topographical depressions. The liquid erosion features appear to be a very recent occurrence: channels in some regions have created surprisingly little erosion, suggesting erosion on Titan is extremely slow, or some other recent phenomena may have wiped out older riverbeds and landforms. Overall, the Cassini radar observations have shown that lakes cover only a few percent of the surface, making Titan much drier than Earth. Most of the lakes are concentrated near the poles (where the relative lack of sunlight prevents evaporation), but several long-standing hydrocarbon lakes in the equatorial desert regions have also been discovered, including one near the Huygens landing site in the Shangri-La region, which is about half the size of Utah's Great Salt Lake. The equatorial lakes are probably "oases", i.e. the likely supplier is underground aquifers.