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Curious facts about cosmic life and their inhabitants.

Although Europa was visited by the two spacecraft Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 in the early 1970s, and the twin Voyagers in 1979, these early flybys only produced grainy, dim images. However, these early pictures revealed enough about the little moon to make it intriguing. Pale yellow icy plains were seen in the Voyager images. The plains also tantalizingly displayed red and brown mottled areas. Long cracks were observed, running for thousands of miles over the shattered eggshell-like crust. On Earth, similar cracks would suggest such features as high mountains and deep canyons. But nothing higher than a few kilometers was seen on the moon. In fact, Europa is one of the smoothest bodies in our Solar System.

and here is another

Although Theia made the ultimate sacrifice, it did not die in vain because this unfortunate world's demise made life possible on Earth. Earth's Moon makes our planet livable; it moderates Earth's wobble on its axis, resulting in a relatively stable, life-sustaining climate, and it also causes ocean tides that create a rhythm that has guided humanity for thousands of years.

and finally

Moons are natural satellites that circle around another body that, in turn, circles around its parent-star. The moon is held in place by both its own gravity and the gravitational pull of its planet. Some planets have moons, while others do not. Several asteroids are known to be circled by very small moons, and some dwarf planets--such as Pluto--also have moons. One of Pluto's quintet of moons, Charon, is about half the size of Pluto itself. Some planetary scientists propose that Charon is really a large chunk of Pluto that was torn off in a catastrophic collision with another wandering world long ago. Because Charon is almost 50% the size of Pluto, the two tiny icy bodies are sometimes considered to be a double-planet.

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The astronomer Tycho Brahe, during the 17th century, measured the diurnal parallax of Mars that Johannes Kepler had used in order to make a preliminary calculation of the relative distance to the Red Planet. When the earliest telescopes to be used for astronomical purposes finally became available, the diurnal parallax of Mars was measured again in an attempt to determine the distance between our Sun and Earth. Giovanni Domenico Cassini was the first to make this measurement in 1692--but the early parallax measurements were hindered by the primitive quality of the instruments. The only occultation of Mars by the planet Venus was observed on October 13, 1590, by Michael Maestlin at Heidelberg. In 1610, Mars was viewed by the great astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was the first to make use of a primitive telescope for astronomical purposes. The Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens was the first to draw a map of Mars that showed terrain features.

The research published in the July 4, 2016 issue of Nature Geoscience highlights the main factor differentiating moon-birth around Mars and Earth: the differing rotation speeds of the two planets prompted "completely different tidal actions," Dr. Charnoz explained in the July 4, 2016 CNRS Press Release. Dr. Charnoz proposes that at the time of their respective impacts, "Earth took less than four hours to spin on its axis whereas Mars rotated very slowly over a 24-hour period." The result of this important difference caused Earth to hold on to its single, large Moon, while the Martian collision created a dozen smaller moons alongside a larger moon. As time went by, Martian tidal action--resulting from the planet's slow rotation rate--caused most of the moons, including the largest one, to crash back down to the surface of their parent-planet. As a result, only the two most distant moons, Phobos and Deimos, survived as testimony to the ancient catastrophe.

Saturn has 62 known moons. Most of them are very small, icy worldlets. On June 11, 2004, shortly before arriving at Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft made its only flyby--at an altitude of 2,000 kilometers--past the very tiny icy moon Phoebe. Phoebe is a heavily cratered worldlet that circles its planet backwards--indicating that it is a captured object, born elsewhere, and not an original member of Saturn's family.