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We all know the casino games at Springbok Casino are plentiful, but how about the moons in our solar system?  Other than the one incandescent globe revolving around our planet, there are literally hundreds more… some more fantastical than others!

How Many Moons are There in the Solar System?

Truth be told, no-one, not even the flyboys at NASA, are absolutely certain of the total number of moons orbiting around the major planets.  At last count, there were 219 known moons doing the rounds, including our familiar cosmic friend.

As the strength and efficacy of telescopic technologies and satellites advance, there is every chance that number will grow and grow.

Six of the Eight Planets Have Moons

At this point in time, what our stargazers do know is six of the eight planets in our solar system have celestial bodies buzzing around.  Larger planets like Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune have several moons, many of which are of a similar age and composition as their gravitational hosts.

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Are All Moons Similar in Composition?

As with everything in our universe, no two moons are the same.  Enceladus – one of Saturn’s moons – is, for instance, the equivalent of an icy snowball.  That said, it is suggested that it has a warm, possibly life-supporting ocean hidden under the crust.

lo – Jupiter’s fifth moon – is angry, tormented and derived from fire and ice.  Neptune’s Triton, on the other hand, features massive nitrogen geysers and a mysterious beginning.

Just as our Springbok Online Casino games offer unique real money gaming experiences online, the inimitable heavenly bodies orbiting the planets are distinctive in shape, size, composition and orbital pattern!

Are Moons Life-Supporting Environments?

What is extraordinary is despite these hostile conditions, two of the three planetary moons mentioned above are on the astronomer’s radar as possible hosts of extra-terrestrial life!

Join us on a voyage of discovery as we delve a little deeper into these fascinating natural satellites and, in one instance, an unlikely origin story.

1. Enceladus – Icy, Reflective and Geologically Active

At 500 km in diameter, the sixth largest moon of Saturn is, by Earth’s standards, rather small.  Despite its diminutive size, Enceladus is one of the most reflective bodies in the cosmos, thanks to its clean, icy white surface.

Frigid Surface Temperatures

In fact, its light reflective rate is around 99% compared to the 7.5% attributed to the Earth’s solitary moon.  The upshot is temperatures on Enceladus are icy to say the least, climbing to just minus 198 degrees Celsius in the ‘heat’ of the day.

The only reason this moon is not frozen solid is because the tidal forces, caused by the gravitational tug between Saturn and a larger satellite, generate heat.  It is these forces that apparently keep the balmy subterranean ocean layer beneath the surface warm and welcoming… but only if you’re a polar bear!

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Jets of Water Spewed into Space

How do we know there is the equivalent of the Indian or Pacific Ocean under the icy armour-plated surface of Enceladus?  Huge jets of water vapour, ice, sodium chloride and hydrogen routinely burst from deep fissures in the crust which, to the naked eye, look like veins or scars.

These so-called cryovolcanoes, which are very active, have an estimated expulsion rate of 200 kg of water per second.  They are also indisputable proof that Enceladus has the kind of hydrothermal ecosystem capable of supporting life – albeit in the form of itty-bitty microorganisms.

2. lo – Colourful, Volcanic and Rendered from Fire and Ice

Where Enceladus is one of the most reflective bodies in the universe, lo is the most volcanically active.  From down here on Earth, the fifth moon of Jupiter is an exciting melange of colours, ranging from yellow, red and ochre to black and white.

A Cool Combo of Iron, Silicate and Vulcanism

Besides the huge sulphurous plumes, lava lakes and rivers of molten rock, the kaleidoscope of colours are caused by an iron sulphate core and chocolate brown silicate upper layer.

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Agonisingly Hot… and Cold

Despite the heat, violence and fire of the hundreds of erupting volcanoes on lo, the average surface temperature is a decidedly frigid minus 130 degrees Celsius.  That is virtually double that of record-low winter temperatures in Antarctica – the coldest place on Earth!

Unlike Antarctica, however, lo is the perfect combination of fire and ice – with active volcanoes standing cheek to jowl with thick sulphurous snowfields.  No wonder NASA is so intrigued and plans on launching the lVO (lo Volcano Observer) for a closer look.  Jupiter’s moon is, by all accounts, a weather anomaly!

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What Causes the Volcanic Activity on lo?

As the moon orbits Jupiter, lo’s surface stretches and constricts like an elasticised rubber band.  All this activity has an explosive effect, resulting in the appearance of new volcanic outbreaks capable of blasting molten rock 500 km into space!

A Constantly Changing Atmosphere – Solid to Gas to Solid…

What is more, the toxic layer of sulphurous gas, which is lo’s atmosphere, freezes and vaporises as the moon journeys away from and towards the light.  In essence, lo’s atmosphere goes through a process of sublimation – and it changes according to its orbital position to the host planet.

3. Triton – Neptune’s Accidental Moon?

Neptune’s largest satellite is similar to Enceladus in many respects.  It is composed of a rocky core and thick icy crust consisting largely of frozen nitrogen and tiny amounts of ammonia, carbon monoxide and methane gas – choke!  This icy crust is occasionally shattered by geysers which send plumes of liquid nitrogen skyrocketing into space.

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Reflective and Bitterly Cold

Triton is also highly reflective and bitterly cold.  At minus 235 degrees Celsius, it is one of the coldest places in the universe… and one of the most toxic.  Notwithstanding the seemingly uninhabitable surface conditions, scientists believe there may be a subterranean ocean lurking beneath the surface of Triton… and possibly some form of life.

The Mystery of Triton’s Naissance

What makes Triton unique is its retrograde orbit – the only one of its kind among the major moons. That, together with the fact is has an uncannily similar composition to Pluto, suggests Triton has an origin in another area of the solar system altogether.

How did Triton end up orbiting Neptune?  One theory is based on the premise of an accidental meeting.  According to this hypothesis, the would-be standalone planet got trapped by Neptune’s gravitational pull as it was passing by.  The end result?  Triton has to make do with the status of ‘moon’ instead!

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