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Published on October 4th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie


Saturn’s Moon Dione: The Ice-Cliffed Satellite


Saturn’s Moon Dione

A spherical ball with numerous scars, we are only beginning to understand the frozen world of Saturn’s moon Dione. As of yet we do not know what it is made from, what structures lay beneath its surface or what other secrets its harbours. But we are beginning to get there…

Just over 60 kilometres (38 miles) less in width than Tethy’s, Saturn’s moon Dione is a substantial satellite of Saturn. A world of water-ice, at minus 186 degrees Celsius (minus 302 degrees Fahrenheit), to say that Saturn’s Dione is chilly is an understatement.

1,120 kilometres (700 miles) in width, Saturn’s moon Dione orbits the planet every 65 and a half hours from a distance of 377,000 kilometres (235,000 miles).

Although the bulk of Dione’s mass can be attributed to frozen water its high density indicates that it must have a rocky core. Saturn’s moon Dione has two features that particularly stand out. These are its ice cliffs and craters.

Saturn's moon Dione Taken By Cassini

Saturn’s Moon Dione: Cliffs Of Ice

A strange, odd-looking characteristic of the moon is its ‘wispy terrain’. Originally thought to be snow caused by volcanoes spewing out ice, this highly reflective material, much brighter than the surrounding surface, was worth further examination.

It wasn’t until the Cassini mission that things became a lot clearer. The Cassini probe photographed enormous vertical cliffs of ice. A new theory had to be formulated to explain their creation and scientists now believe that in the past great tidal forces caused the formation of tectonic fractures.

Saturn's Moon Dione And Saturn With Her Rings

A Place Of Craters

Saturn’s moon Dione is pock-marked by impacts with extra-terrestrial bodies. Many of these objects were quite large, going by the size of some of the craters which often exceed 100 kilometres (60 miles) in width.

At this point in time very little is known about Saturn’s Dione apart from superficial details. We still do not know what its core is comprised of and the moon may be holding many more secrets.

The same Cassini probe which photographed the Ice Cliffs is due for another photographing fly-by in December of 2011. Who knows, it may reveal a lot more this time.

Highly Recommended Reading

Check out Yellow Magpie’s The Planet Saturn: The Ringed Wonder Of The Solar System for more insight into the largest planet in the Solar System.

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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