Iapetus (moon)

Iapetus (moon)

Infobox Planet
name = Iapetus
alt_names = Saturn VIII
adjectives = Iapetian, Japetian

caption = Photomosaic of "Cassini" images taken Dec. 31, 2004, showing the dark Cassini Regio and its border with the bright Roncevaux Terra, several large craters, and the equatorial ridge
bgcolour = #a0ffa0
discovery = yes
discoverer = G. D. Cassini
discovered = October 25 1671
semimajor = 3 560 820 km
eccentricity = 0.028 612 5 [ [http://home.gwi.net/~pluto/mpecs/ss08.htm#elements Pseudo-MPEC for Saturn VIII ] ]
period = 79.321 5 d
inclination = 17.28° (to the ecliptic) 15.47° (to Saturn's equator) 7.52° (to Laplace plane)
satellite_of = Saturn
physical_characteristics = yes
dimensions = 1494.8×1424.8 kmcite journal| last=Thomas| first=P. C.| coauthors=Burns, J. A.; Helfenstein, P.; Squyres, S.; Veverka, J.; Porco, C.; Turtle, E.; McEwen, A.; Denk, T.; Giese, B.; "et al."| title=Shapes of the saturnian icy satellites and their significance| journal=Icarus| month=| year=2007| volume=190| pages=573–584| url=http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WGF-4NDMNGC-4&_user=10&_coverDate=10%2F31%2F2007&_rdoc=21&_fmt=summary&_orig=browse&_srch=doc-info(%23toc%236821%232007%23998099997%23668725%23FLA%23display%23Volume)&_cdi=6821&_sort=d&_docanchor=&_ct=29&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=8101cb113c75c3b948580ff1b4750474| doi=10.1016/j.icarus.2007.03.012]
mean_radius = 735.60 ± 3 km
surface_area = 6 700 000 km²
mass = (1.805 635 ± 0.000 375)e|21 kgcite journal| last=Jacobson| first=R. A.| coauthors=Antreasian, P. G.; Bordi, J. J.; Criddle, K. E.; et.al.| title=The gravity field of the saturnian system from satellite observations and spacecraft tracking data| journal=The Astronomical Journal| month=December| year=2006| volume=132| pages=2520–2526| doi=10.1086/508812]
density = 1.083 0 ± 0.006 6 g/cm³
surface_grav = 0.223 m/s2
escape_velocity = 0.572 km/s
rotation = 79.321 5 d (synchronous)
axial_tilt = zero
albedo = 0.05-0.5cite web|first=David R.|last=Williams|title=Saturnian Satellite Fact Sheet|work=NASA|url=http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/saturniansatfact.html|accessdate=2007-11-04]
magnitude = 10.2-11.9cite web|title=Classic Satellites of the Solar System|url=http://www.oarval.org/ClasSaten.htm|publisher=Observatorio ARVAL|accessdate=2007-09-28]

Iapetus (pronEng|aɪˈæpɨtəs respell|eye|AP|ə-təs, or as in Greek "Ιαπετός)," occasionally Japetus (IPAlink-en|ˈdʒæpɨtəs respell|JAP|ə-təs),cite journal| last=Lassell| first=William| year=1848| month=January 14| title=Satellites of Saturn| journal=Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society| volume=8| issue=3| pages=42–43| url=http://adsabs.harvard.edu//full/seri/MNRAS/0008//0000042.000.html] is the third-largest moon of Saturn, and eleventh in the solar system, discovered by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in 1671. Iapetus is best known for its dramatic 'two-tone' coloration, but recent discoveries by the "Cassini" mission have revealed several other unusual physical characteristics, such as an equatorial ridge that runs about halfway around the moon.


Iapetus was discovered by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in October 1671 on the western side of Saturn. Then Cassini tried unsuccessfully to observe it on the eastern side of the planet in early 1672. This pattern continued as Cassini observed Iapetus in December 1672 and February 1673, each time tracking it for a fortnight on the western side of Saturn, but he was unable to detect it during the intervening period, when it should have been on the eastern side. Cassini finally observed Iapetus on the eastern side in 1705 with an improved telescope, finding it two magnitudes dimmer on that side. [A. Van Helden, "Saturn through the telescope: A brief historical survey", "Saturn", Tucson: University of Arizona Press, pp.23-43 (1984).] [David M. Harland, "Mission to Saturn: Cassini and the Huygens Probe", Chichester: Praxis Publishing (2002).]

Cassini correctly surmised that Iapetus has a bright hemisphere and a dark hemisphere, and that it is tidally locked, always keeping the same face towards Saturn, so that the bright hemisphere is visible from Earth when Iapetus is on the western side of Saturn, and the dark hemisphere on the other side. The dark hemisphere was later named Cassini Regio in his honour.


Iapetus is named after the Titan Iapetus from Greek mythology. It is also designated Saturn VIII.

Iapetus was among four Saturnian moons labelled the "Sidera Lodoicea" by their discoverer Giovanni Cassini after King Louis XIV (the other three were Tethys, Dione and Rhea). However, astronomers fell into the habit of referring to them by numbers, with Iapetus as Saturn V. Once Mimas and Enceladus were discovered in 1789, the numbering scheme was extended and Iapetus became Saturn VII, and subsequently "Saturn VIII" after the discovery of Hyperion in 1848. It is still known by that number today (see naming of natural satellites).

The name "Japetus" (a spelling still in occasional use) was suggested by John Herschel (son of William Herschel, discoverer of Mimas and Enceladus) in his 1847 publication "Results of Astronomical Observations made at the Cape of Good Hope",/] in which he advocated naming the moons of Saturn after the Titans, sisters and brothers of the Titan Cronus (whom the Romans equated with their god Saturn). The adjectival form is "Iapetian" (IPA|/ˌaɪəˈpiːtiən/) or "Japetian" (IPA|/dʒəˈpiːtiən/).

Geological features on Iapetus are named after characters and places from the French epic poem "The Song of Roland" (examples of names used include the craters Charlemagne and Baligant, and the bright region, Roncevaux Terra). The one exception is Cassini Regio, the dark region of the moon, named after the region's discoverer, Giovanni Cassini.

Physical characteristics

The low density of Iapetus indicates that it is mostly composed of ice, with only a small (~20%) amount of rocky materials.cite journal| last=Castillo-Rogez| first=J. C.| coauthors=Matson, D. L.; Sotin, C.; Johnson, T. V.; Lunine, J. I.; Thomas, P. C.| title=Iapetus’ geophysics: Rotation rate, shape, and equatorial ridge| journal=Icarus| month=| year=2007| volume=190| pages=179–202| url=http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WGF-4NC4MCH-3&_user=10&_coverDate=09%2F30%2F2007&_rdoc=15&_fmt=summary&_orig=browse&_srch=doc-info(%23toc%236821%232007%23998099998%23665908%23FLA%23display%23Volume)&_cdi=6821&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=22&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=bd916410e8f013e963db0882ca52c451| doi=10.1016/j.icarus.2007.02.018] Unlike most moons, its overall shape is neither spherical nor ellipsoid, but has a bulging waistline and squashed polesCowen, R. (2007). Idiosycratic Iapetus, "Science News" vol. 172, pp. 104-106. [http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20070818/bob8ref.asp references] )] ; also, its unique equatorial ridge (see below) is so high that it visibly distorts the moon's shape even when viewed from a distance. These features often lead it to be characterized as walnut-shaped.

Iapetus is heavily cratered, and "Cassini" images have revealed large impact basins in the dark region, at least five of which are over 350 km wide. The largest has a diameter over 500 km; its rim is extremely steep and includes a scarp over 15 km high.

Two-tone coloration

In the 17th century, Giovanni Cassini observed that he could see Iapetus only on the west side of Saturn and never on the east. He correctly deduced that Iapetus is locked in synchronous rotation about Saturn and that one side of Iapetus is darker than the other, a conclusion later confirmed by larger telescopes.

The difference in colouring between the two Iapetian hemispheres is striking. The leading hemisphere and sides are dark (albedo 0.03–0.05) with a slight reddish-brown coloring, while most of the trailing hemisphere and poles are bright (albedo 0.5-0.6, almost as bright as Europa). Thus, the apparent magnitude of the trailing hemisphere is around 10.2, whereas that of the leading hemisphere is around 11.9 — beyond the capacity of the best telescopes in the 17th century. The pattern of coloration is analogous to a spherical yin-yang symbol or the two sections of a tennis ball. The dark region is named Cassini Regio, and the bright region Roncevaux Terra. The original dark material is believed to have come from outside Iapetus, but now it consists principally of lag from the sublimation of ice from the warmer areas of Iapetus's surface. It contains organic compounds similar to the substances found in primitive meteorites or on the surfaces of comets; Earth-based observations have shown it to be carbonaceous, and it probably includes cyano-compounds such as frozen hydrogen cyanide polymers.

On September 10 2007, the "Cassini" orbiter passed within 1640 kilometres (1000 miles) of Iapetus and demonstrated that both hemispheres are heavily cratered. The color dichotomy of scattered patches of light and dark material in the transition zone between Cassini Regio and Roncevaux exists at very small scales, down to the imaging resolution of 30 meters. There is dark material filling in low-lying regions, and light material on the pole-facing slopes of craters, but no shades of grey. [ [http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/image-details.cfm?imageID=2761 Cassini-Huygens: Multimedia-Images ] ] The material is a very thin layer, only a few tens of centimeters (approx. one foot) thick at least in some areas, [ [http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/image-details.cfm?imageID=2762 Cassini-Huygens: Multimedia-Images ] ] according to Cassini radar imaging and by the fact that very small meteor impacts have punched through to the ice underneath. [http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/press-release-details.cfm?newsID=779 Cassini-Huygens: News ] ]

NASA scientists now believe that the dark material may be lag (residue) from the sublimation (evaporation) of water ice on the surface of Iapetus, possibly darkened further upon exposure to sunlight. Because of its slow rotation of 79 days (equal to its revolution and the longest in the Saturnian system), Iapetus likely had the warmest daytime surface temperature and coldest nighttime temperature in the Saturnian system even before the development of the color contrast; near the equator, heat absorption by the dark material results in a daytime temperatures of 128 K in the dark Cassini Regio compared to 113 K in the bright Roncevaux Terra. [http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/image-details.cfm?imageID=2776 Cassini-Huygens: Multimedia-Images ] ] The difference in temperature means that ice preferentially sublimates from Cassini, and precipitates in Roncevaux and especially at the even colder poles. Over geologic time scales, this would further darken Cassini and brighten Roncevaux and the poles, with all exposed ice being lost from Cassini, creating a thermal positive feedback for ever greater contrast in albedo. It is estimated that, at current temperatures, over one thousand million years Cassini would lose about 20 meters of ice to sublimation, while Roncevaux would lose only 10 centimeters, not considering the ice transferred from the dark regions. This model explains the distribution of light and dark areas, the absence of shades of grey, and the thinness of the dark material covering Cassini.

However, a separate process of color segregation would be required to get the thermal feedback started. The initial dark material is thought to have been debris blasted by meteors off small outer moons in retrograde orbits and swept up by the leading hemisphere of Iapetus. The core of this model is some 30 years old, and has been revived by the September flyby.

Light debris outside of Iapetus's orbit, either knocked free from the surface of a moon by micrometeoroid impacts or created in a collision, would spiral in as its orbit decays. It would have been darkened by exposure to sunlight. A portion of any such material that crossed Iapetus's orbit would have been swept up by its leading hemisphere, potentially coating it to create a contrast in albedo, and so a contrast in temperature, that could have been exaggerated by the thermal feedback described above.

The largest reservoir of such material is Phoebe, the largest of the outer moons. Although Phoebe's composition is closer to that of the bright hemisphere of Iapetus than the dark one,cite journal| last=Hendrix| first=A. R.| coauthors=Hansen, C. J.| title=Iapetus and Phoebe as Measured by the Cassini UVIS| journal=36th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference| month=March 14-18| year=2005| url=http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2005/pdf/2272.pdf] dust from Phoebe would only be needed to establish a contrast in albedo, and presumably would have been largely obscured by later sublimation.

Overall shape

Current triaxial measurements of Iapetus give it dimensions of 747.1 × 749 × 712.6 km, with a mean radius of 736 ±2km. However, these measurements may be inaccurate on the kilometer scale as Iapetus's entire surface has not yet been imaged in high enough resolution. The observed oblateness corresponds to a rotation period of 10 hours, not to the 79 days observed. A possible explanation for this is that the shape of the moon was frozen by formation of a thick crust shortly after its formation, while its rotation continued to slow afterwards due to tidal dissipation, until it became tidally locked.

Equatorial ridge

A further mystery of Iapetus is the equatorial ridge that runs along the center of Cassini Regio, about 1,300 km long, 20 km wide, 13 km high. It was discovered when the "Cassini" spacecraft imaged Iapetus on December 31 2004. Parts of the ridge rise more than 20 km above the surrounding plains. The ridge forms a complex system including isolated peaks, segments of more than 200 km and sections with three near parallel ridges.cite journal
first=C. C.
coauthors=E. Baker, J. Barbara, K. Beurle, A. Brahic, J. A. Burns, S. Charnoz, N. Cooper, D. D. Dawson, A. D. Del Genio, T. Denk, L. Dones, U. Dyudina, M. W. Evans, B. Giese, K. Grazier, P. Helfenstein, A. P. Ingersoll, R. A. Jacobson, T. V. Johnson, A. McEwen, C. D. Murray, G. Neukum, W. M. Owen, J. Perry, T. Roatsch, J. Spitale, S. Squyres, P. C. Thomas, M. Tiscareno, E. Turtle, A. R. Vasavada, J. Veverka, R. Wagner, R. West
title=Cassini imaging science: Initial results on Phoebe and Iapetus
] Within the bright Roncevaux Terra there is no ridge, but there are a series of isolated 10 km peaks along the equator. [ [http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/image-details.cfm?imageID=2760 Cassini-Huygens: Multimedia-Images ] ] The ridge system is heavily cratered, indicating that it is ancient. The prominent equatorial bulge gives the moon a walnut-like appearance.

It is not clear how the ridge formed. One difficulty is to explain why it follows the equator almost perfectly. There are at least three current hypotheses, but none of them explains why the ridge is confined to Cassini Regio.
# A team of scientists associated with the "Cassini" mission have argued that the ridge could be a remnant of the oblate shape of the young Iapetus, when it was rotating more rapidly than it does today.cite journal
first=Richard A.
title=How Saturn's Icy Moons Get a (Geologic) Life
] The height of the ridge suggests a maximum rotational period of 17 hours. If Iapetus cooled fast enough to preserve the ridge but remain plastic long enough for the tides raised by Saturn to have slowed the rotation to its current tidally locked 79 days, Iapetus must have been heated by the radioactive decay of aluminium-26. This isotope appears to have been abundant in the solar nebula from which Saturn formed, but has since all decayed. The quantities of aluminium-26 needed to heat Iapetus to the required temperature give a tentative date to its formation relative to the rest of the Solar System: Iapetus must have come together earlier than expected, only two million years after the asteroids started to form.
# The ridge could be icy material that welled up from beneath the surface and then solidified. If it had formed away from the then equator, this hypothesis requires that the rotational axis would have been driven to its current position by the ridge.Fact|date=September 2007
# It has also been suggested that Iapetus could have had a ring system during its formation due to its large Hill sphere, and that the equatorial ridge was then produced by collisional accretion of this ring.W.-H Ip 2006. "On a ring origin of the equatorial ridge of Iapetus". Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 33, L16203, doi:10.1029/2005GL025386] However, the ridge appears too solid to be the result of a collapsed ring. Also, recent images show tectonic faults running through the ridge, apparently inconsistent with the collapsed ring hypothesis.


Temperatures on the dark region's surface reach 130 K (−143.2 °C or −226 °F) at the equator, as heating is made more effective by Iapetus's slow rotation. The brighter surfaces absorb less sunlight so temperatures there only reach about 100 K (−173.2 °C or −280 °F). [ [http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/image-details.cfm?imageID=1281 Cassini-Huygens: Multimedia-Images ] ]


The orbit of Iapetus is somewhat unusual. Although it is Saturn's third-largest moon, it orbits much farther from Saturn than the next closest major moon, Titan. It has also the most inclined orbital plane of the regular satellites; only the irregular outer satellites like Phoebe have more inclined orbits. The cause of this is unknown.

Because of this distant, inclined orbit, Iapetus is the only large moon from which the rings of Saturn would be clearly visible; from the other inner moons, the rings would be edge-on and difficult to see. From Iapetus, Saturn would appear to be 1°56' in diameter (four times that of the Moon viewed from Earth). [Angular diameter calculated using Celestia software.]


Iapetus has been imaged multiple times from moderate distances by the Cassini orbiter. However, its orbit makes close observation difficult. There has been one close targeted fly-by, at 1227 km on September 10 2007; there are no plans for any others.

Iapetus in fiction

:"See: Iapetus in fiction"


ee also

*List of geological features on Iapetus


External links

* [http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/science/moons/moonDetails.cfm?pageID=7 Cassini mission page - Iapetus]
* [http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/products/pdfs/CHARM_20071030_Iapetus.pdf Discussion of Iapetus dated October 2007]
* [http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Sat_Iapetus Iapetus Profile] by [http://solarsystem.nasa.gov NASA's Solar System Exploration]
* [http://www.planetary.org/explore/topics/saturn/iapetus.html The Planetary Society: Iapetus]
* [http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap050201.html "Astronomy Picture of the Day" article on Iapetus]
* [http://th-www.if.uj.edu.pl/acta/vol33/abs/v33p1325.htm Mirror Objects in the Solar System?] - refereed article discussing the speculative mirror matter, and Iapetus in this context
* [http://www.enterprisemission.com/moon1.htm A Moon with a View] - Richard C. Hoagland's highly creative discussion of Iapetus's oddities
* [http://www.newscientistspace.com/article.ns?id=dn9884&feedId=online-news_rss20 New attempts to crack Saturn's 'walnut' moon] - equatorial ridge formation theories

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