Space

Moon shots: Magical imagery of our solar system's smaller players

Moon shots: Magical imagery of...
Color view of Jupiter's moon Europa, made from images snapped by NASA's Galileo spacecraft
Color view of Jupiter's moon Europa, made from images snapped by NASA's Galileo spacecraft
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Enceladus in front of Saturn's rings, with the planet's larger moon Titan in the background
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Enceladus in front of Saturn's rings, with the planet's larger moon Titan in the background
Enceladus, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft in 2008
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Enceladus, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft in 2008
The north pole of Saturnian moon Enceladus
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The north pole of Saturnian moon Enceladus
Enceladus with the shadow rings on the surface of Saturn in the background. Taken by the Cassini spacecraft in 2007
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Enceladus with the shadow rings on the surface of Saturn in the background. Taken by the Cassini spacecraft in 2007
High contrast image of Saturn's moon Enceladus
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High contrast image of Saturn's moon Enceladus
Close-up of Saturn's moon Enceladus taken during Cassini's flyby in October 2015
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Close-up of Saturn's moon Enceladus taken during Cassini's flyby in October 2015
Farewell portrait taken by the Cassini spacecraft in September 2017 shows Enceladus sinking behind Saturn
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Farewell portrait taken by the Cassini spacecraft in September 2017 shows Enceladus sinking behind Saturn
High contrast image of Saturn's moon Enceladus
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High contrast image of Saturn's moon Enceladus
The relative speck that is Enceladus, with Saturn in the background
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The relative speck that is Enceladus, with Saturn in the background
Moons Tethys (up close) and the irregularly shaped Janus in the distance around Saturn
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Moons Tethys (up close) and the irregularly shaped Janus in the distance around Saturn
Five Saturn moons, Janus, Pandora, Enceladus, Rhea and Mimas do their thing around the ringed giant
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Five Saturn moons, Janus, Pandora, Enceladus, Rhea and Mimas do their thing around the ringed giant
The moon Janus floats through space  above Saturn's F ring
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The moon Janus floats through space  above Saturn's F ring
Image of Janus in orbit around Saturn, taken by Cassini in 2014
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Image of Janus in orbit around Saturn, taken by Cassini in 2014
Moons Tethys (up close) and the irregularly shaped Janus in the distance around Saturn
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Moons Tethys (up close) and the irregularly shaped Janus in the distance around Saturn
Saturnian moon Pandora floats beyond the planet's F ring
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Saturnian moon Pandora floats beyond the planet's F ring
Saturn's moons Prometheus and Pandora nestle in among the planet's rings
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Saturn's moons Prometheus and Pandora nestle in among the planet's rings
Tethys floats above the north pole of Saturn in a Cassini image from 2015
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Tethys floats above the north pole of Saturn in a Cassini image from 2015
Saturn's giant moon Titan in front of the smaller moon Tethys
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Saturn's giant moon Titan in front of the smaller moon Tethys
Saturn's moon Enceladus in front of the planet's famous rings
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Saturn's moon Enceladus in front of the planet's famous rings
Image taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during the closest ever flyby of the Saturn moon Mimas
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Image taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during the closest ever flyby of the Saturn moon Mimas
Close up of Saturn's moon Dione with the rings in the background
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Close up of Saturn's moon Dione with the rings in the background
Saturn's moon Titan in front of the ringed giant. The moon Enceladus can also be spotted in the top right corner
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Saturn's moon Titan in front of the ringed giant. The moon Enceladus can also be spotted in the top right corner
Saturn's moon Tethys, Enceladus and Mimas hover around the planet's famous rings
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Saturn's moon Tethys, Enceladus and Mimas hover around the planet's famous rings
Sharp detail on the surface of Saturn's moon Hyperion
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Sharp detail on the surface of Saturn's moon Hyperion
Mimas, pictured around 28,000 miles (45,000 km) in front of Saturn's rings
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Mimas, pictured around 28,000 miles (45,000 km) in front of Saturn's rings
Saturn's moon Tethys, with the rings in the background
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Saturn's moon Tethys, with the rings in the background
The rugged landscape of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus
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The rugged landscape of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus
Saturn's rings in front of its moons Tethys and the larger Titan
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Saturn's rings in front of its moons Tethys and the larger Titan
The fractured north pole of Enceladus, as captured by Cassini as it skimmed across the surface
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The fractured north pole of Enceladus, as captured by Cassini as it skimmed across the surface
Neptune's moon Triton, as seen by the only spacecraft to ever pass by the moon, Voyager 2 in 1989 
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Neptune's moon Triton, as seen by the only spacecraft to ever pass by the moon, Voyager 2 in 1989 
Uranus' moon Miranda as seen by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986
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Uranus' moon Miranda as seen by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986
Jupiter and its active moon Io, snapped by the New Horizons spacecraft in 2007
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Jupiter and its active moon Io, snapped by the New Horizons spacecraft in 2007
Mountains on the surface of Jupiter's moon Io, as seen by the Galileo spacecraft in 2000
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Mountains on the surface of Jupiter's moon Io, as seen by the Galileo spacecraft in 2000
Color view of Jupiter's moon Europa, made from images snapped by NASA's Galileo spacecraft
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Color view of Jupiter's moon Europa, made from images snapped by NASA's Galileo spacecraft
The icy moon Europa emerges from behind Jupiter
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The icy moon Europa emerges from behind Jupiter
The Jovian moon Ganymede emerges from behind Jupiter in 2007
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The Jovian moon Ganymede emerges from behind Jupiter in 2007
Portraits of the four Galilean moons, Jupiter's largest, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto spliced together
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Portraits of the four Galilean moons, Jupiter's largest, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto spliced together
Jupiter and its moons Io and Ganymede
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Jupiter and its moons Io and Ganymede
The Juno spacecraft spies the Jovian moons Io and Europa alongside Jupiter in 2017
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The Juno spacecraft spies the Jovian moons Io and Europa alongside Jupiter in 2017
Color-enhanced views of Mars' smaller moon Deimos, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009
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Color-enhanced views of Mars' smaller moon Deimos, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009
Mars' larger moon Phobos, as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
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Mars' larger moon Phobos, as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Earth's Moon crosses in front of the Sun, as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in 2010
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Earth's Moon crosses in front of the Sun, as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in 2010
Closeup image of the Moon's surface taken during the Apollo 12 mission, featuring the legs of commander Charles Conrad Jr.
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Closeup image of the Moon's surface taken during the Apollo 12 mission, featuring the legs of commander Charles Conrad Jr.
Photograph of a full moon taken during the Apollo 12 mission as the spacecraft returned to Earth
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Photograph of a full moon taken during the Apollo 12 mission as the spacecraft returned to Earth
Our Moon, snapped from the International Space Station by NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik in 2017
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Our Moon, snapped from the International Space Station by NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik in 2017
"Earthrise" taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter during its orbit around the Moon in 2015
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"Earthrise" taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter during its orbit around the Moon in 2015
Pluto's moon Charon, snapped by the New Horizons spacecraft
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Pluto's moon Charon, snapped by the New Horizons spacecraft

A lot has changed since Galileo first pointed his telescope at some mysterious bright spots around Jupiter in 1610, a seminal moment in astronomy that fundamentally changed our understanding of the universe. Today we not only have a much clearer view of those four Galilean moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, but also more powerful telescopes and intrepid spacecraft to bring more moons into focus, with around 150 now confirmed to exist in our solar system alone.

By halfway through the 20th century, astronomers had continued to build on the work of Galileo by discovering around 30 moons orbiting planets in our solar system. And then things really ramped up.

Tethys floats above the north pole of Saturn in a Cassini image from 2015
Tethys floats above the north pole of Saturn in a Cassini image from 2015

NASA now lists 154 confirmed moons, with a bunch of provisional moons still awaiting confirmation. Most of these can be found in the outer solar system circling the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, along with the ice giants Uranus and Neptune.

Moons come in all shapes and sizes, and some float quietly through space while others carry quite important responsibilities for their hosts. Those that live towards the outer edges of Saturn's rings, for example, are known as shepherd moons for the role they play in keeping the rings' dust and ice in check and within the gravitational pull of the planet.

Many of these moons take their names from mythological characters of Greek or Roman origin. Mars' tiny moons Phobos and Deimos, for example, mean "panic" and "fear" and are named after the mythological Greek characters who accompanied their father into battle. The moons orbiting Uranus are an exception, however, and are named after characters from Shakespeare, like Ophelia and Puck.

Image taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during the closest ever flyby of the Saturn moon Mimas
Image taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during the closest ever flyby of the Saturn moon Mimas

We can learn a lot about these bodies from telescopes here on Earth, but adventurous probes have gathered invaluable data while traveling towards the outer reaches of the solar system, snapping plenty of spectacular images along the way. Indeed, modern science has given us some awe-inspiring perspectives on these distant satellites. Jump on into our gallery to see for yourself.

2 comments
amazed W1
This research has produced some truly beautiful shots, but to me the real benefit is that it has made the astrophysical and astronomical fraternities and sororites more flexible in their acceptance of theories which are not part of their group thinks and to look at the universe in a much more open way.
chase
Amazing images for sure. Now we can update all cg created planets in our system.