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Hyperion: Saturn's Irregular Moon

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Space no image

Published on November 2nd, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie


Hyperion: Saturn’s Irregular Moon


Saturn’s Moon Hyperion

Sometimes words fail us in describing panoramas. Odd, weird, bizarre, strange, these words just seem incapable of doing justice to the vista of Saturn’s moon Hyperion. The physical appearance of the moon just defies easy classification. A unique place in a Solar System filled with singular objects, there are occasions when the phrase a picture speaks a thousand words is highly apt.

The Frozen Sponge

Saturn’s moon Hyperion is a frozen place with a mean temperature of minus 180 degrees Celsius (minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit). The satellite is 370 kilometres (230 miles) in length taking just over 21 days to complete an orbit of Saturn at a distance of 1,480,000 kilometres (919,000 miles).

The Chaotic Satellite

To describe the rotation of Saturn’s moon Hyperion as irregular would only half hint at its true nature. The moon is so chaotic that so far it is impossible for scientists to predict its rotation. As you would probably imagine this means that its orbit is also very difficult to predict with any of the sort of fine precision usually associated with astronomy.

Saturn's Moon Hyperion A True Colour Image By Cassini

Odd-Shaped Wonder

Saturn’s moon Hyperion’s weird shape is all the more bizarre given its size. For its dimensions, this world should never have been the shape that it is. A colossal explosion of energy must have occurred. Many believe that Hyperion was once a much larger body that was fragmented in a massive impact with a huge object.

Like many of the satellites of the gas and ice giants, Saturn’s moon Hyperion is largely composed of ice-water. Though it may have a small interior rocky core. Strangely, despite being composed mainly of ice, Saturn’s moon Hyperion is not the most reflective object in the Solar System. This may be due to the moon’s deep pockmarked appearance.

Saturn's Sponge-Like Moon Hyperion

Another factor is the dark layer of material which was deposited on the surface. The colour of this dark layer suggests that its sister moon, Iapetus, may have had something to do with this.

The surface of Saturn’s moon Hyperion is stunning. Its sponge-like appearance was first observed by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005. The darker areas of the satellite that gives rise to its low albedo are red in colour.

Saturn’s Moon Hyperion: Tidally Free

Saturn’s moon Hyperion is the only moon in the entire Solar System that is not tidally locked. This means that unlike our own Moon, where only one side is visible from the Earth with the other remaining permanently hidden, all sides of Saturn’s Hyperion are visible from the surface of Saturn.

We may never know what caused the massive impact that resulted in Saturn’s moon Hyperion’s stunning shape. Likewise, we may never fully understand the specifics of its chaotic rotation. In time though a select few may get the opportunity to see its wonderful surface for themselves.

Highly Recommended Reading

Check out Yellow Magpie’s The Planet Saturn: The Ringed Wonder Of The Solar System and The Minor Moons Of Saturn: The Smaller Saturnine Satellites for more insight into the largest planet in the Solar System and its moon.

You may also wish to take a gander at The Solar System And Beyond: A Guide To The Cosmos.

Cosmos is a highly recommended book. It contains large, full-page pictures of the asteroids and writing on the subject by the highly competent author, Giles Sparrow.

For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Cosmos from here.

For those who live in Canada, you can obtain: Cosmos here.

For Germany: Cosmos.

For France: Cosmos.

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