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A Tour of Satellites in the Outer Solar System

All the gas giants in our solar system have ring systems. Saturn's is merely the most visible, and may be less than 100 million years old. Saturn's aggregate ring mass is about equal to the mass of middling Mimas; Jupiter's aggregate ring mass is a million times smaller. A number of the outer planets' moons actually lie within their ring systems, either shepherding the rings or continuously regenerating ring material via impacts. Satellites around each of the outer planets are not the random jumble they appear to be to the untrained eye. In fact, taxonomy is possible. (Taxonomers themselves occur in two classes: splitters and lumpers.) The outer moons tend to occur in classes, with a high degree of similarity within each group (diameter/mass, orbital radius, inclination to primary, and probably composition), arguing for a common genesis with each group. Exceptions to this rule are probably captured asteroids, planetismals, or Kuiper Belt Objects. The orbital planes within a given group are not usually congruent, as the line of apsides is chaotically altered by dynamic interactions with all the other moons in a system, and by aspheric variations in the primary's gravitational field. However, it helps to visualize the separate classes as if they were in congruent planes. For comparison with the figures below (especially Neptune's!), remember that the orbit of Earth's moon has a semimajor axis of 384,400 km.

Credit goes out to The Planetary Report published by The Planetary Society, and JPL Flight Projects Office literature from Planetfest '89.

What's Coming to this Page:

Closeups of moons coming. A new Kuiper Belt page, with Pluto as the leading member (will annoy planet chauvinists). A catalog of categories, e.g. what are Centaurs, Amors, Trojans? Your comments are welcome: robot-at-ultimax-dot-com
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These pages last updated April 1, 2003