Top Ten Largest Moons

This is the newest series to come to I Read Encyclopedias for Fun, the weekly Top Ten. I will be publishing top ten lists of various topics scientific, geographic, and anything related to books, TV shows, and movies. They are not merely lists, however. They also include some interesting information. Some of the lists will be purely factual, while others will be my opinion. So, let’s get started.

Top Ten Largest Moons

10. Oberon

Voyager_2_picture_of_OberonWith a mean radius of 761.4 km, Uranus’ moon Oberon is the tenth largest moon in the Solar System. It has a mass of (3.014±0.075)×1021 kg , and a mean density of 1.63±0.05 g/cm³. It’s the second largest moon of Uranus, and was discovered by William Herschel in 1787. It’s estimated to be about 50% water ice, and differentiated into a rocky core and icy mantle. The surface is slightly reddish and is covered with craters and chasmata. It has only been visited once, by Voyager 2, which mapped 40% of its surface.

9. Rhea

PIA07763_Rhea_full_globe5With a mean radius of 763.8 km, Rhea is the ninth largest satellite in the Solar System. It has a mass of (2.306518±0.000353)×1021 kg, and a mean density of 1.236±0.005 g/cm³. It’s the second largest moon of Saturn, and was discovered by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in 1672. Due to its low density, it’s estimated to be about 75% water ice, and only about 25% rock. It appears it has a homogeneous interior, meaning there is no core. It is heavily cratered and has only a few chasmata or fractures on the trailing hemisphere. It’s been extensively photographed and mapped by the Cassini orbiter currently at Saturn.

8. Titania

Titania_(moon)_color_croppedWith a mean radius of 788.4±0.6 km, Titania is the eighth largest moon in the Solar System, and Uranus’ largest. It has a mass of (3.527±0.09)×1021 kg, and a mean density of 1.711±0.005 g/cm³. It was discovered by William Herschel in 1787. It’s estimated to be around 50% water ice, and may have a rocky core. The surface is cratered fairly heavily, but not as much as other large Uranian moons, meaning it has a younger surface. It features several large chasmata and scarps, pointing towards tectonic activities in its past. It may have a tenuous carbon dioxide atmosphere. About 40% of the surface has been photographed by Voyager 2.

7. Triton

480px-Triton_moon_mosaic_Voyager_2_(large)With a mean radius of 1353.4±0.9 km, Triton is the seventh largest moon in the Solar System, and Neptune’s largest. It has a mass of 2.14×1022 kg, and a mean density of 2.061 g/cm3. it was discovered by William Lassell in 1846. Triton is unique in that it’s the only large moon that orbits its planet in a retrograde direction. Because of this, the tidal forces from Neptune will cause its orbit to degrade and crash into the planet or create a new ring system in about 3.6 billion years. Triton is also very active geologically. It has several nitrogen geysers that have been observed to be erupting. The surface is relatively young, having been resurfaced in the past, leaving it smoother and more reflective. It’s likely to be differentiated, having a core, mantle, and crust. It’s guessed it may have a liquid water ocean beneath the surface. The core likely generates heat to help keep the water liquid. The atmosphere is a thin nitrogen atmosphere, and clouds have been observed. It’s theorised that Triton is a captured moon, likely a Kuiper Belt object.

6. Europa

Europa-moonWith a mean radius of 1560.8±0.5 km, Europa is the sixth largest moon, and the fourth largest of Jupiter’s Galilean satellites. It has a mass of (4.799844±0.000013)×1022 kg and a mean density of 3.013±0.005 g/cm3. It was discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. Europa is one of the most exciting satellites in the Solar System for one major reason, it has a large subsurface ocean of liquid water. It’s so large that it has more water than Earth. Because of tidal heating, it is quite possible that it has hydrothermal vents, which are teeming with life in Earth’s oceans. The surface is incredibly smooth and made of water ice. It has features similar to the Arctic polar ice cap and very few craters. The surface is young and constantly being resurfaced. Beneath about 10-30 km of ice, there’s a thick ocean of liquid water, around 100 km thick. And then beneath that is a rocky interior and a metallic core. One of the most prominent features is the lineae, or the extensive lines that cover the surface. These are cracks where fresh water may be coming to the surface, and plates of icy crust move against each other.

5. Moon

LRO_WAC_Nearside_MosaicWith a mean radius of 1737.1 km, the Earth’s Moon is the fifth largest moon in the Solar System. Its mass is 7.342×1022 kg and mean density is 3.344 g/cm3. It’s the second densest moon in the Solar System. It’s the most familiar moon, as we can see it very easily from Earth. Its discovery is prehistoric, since we’ve always known it’s there. The surface is heavily cratered, except in the Maria, which are basins flooded with lava. There are also volcanoes, some of which are relatively young. This suggests a warmer interior than previously thought. The interior is differentiated, with distinct crust, mantle, and core. The surface is dominated by silica, alumina, lime, and iron oxide. It’s tidally locked, so we only see one side of the Moon. The far side is very different, lacking the maria we see on the near side. It’s also the only moon that has been landed on by humans, and one of only two moons that has been landed on by robotic probes.

4. Io

Io_highest_resolution_true_colorWith a mean radius of 1821.6±0.5 km, Io is the fourth largest satellite, and the third largest of Jupiter’s Galilean satellites. It has a mass of (8.931938±0.000018)×1022 kg and a mean density of 3.528±0.006 g/cm3. It is the most dense natural satellite in the solar system, and is also the most geologically active. It has more than 400 active volcanoes, which makes it the most active object in the Solar System, more than Earth. It was discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. When Io was first viewed up close, it was a surprise. The surface is a very colourful mixture of red, orange, yellow, white, and black. Several volcanoes can be erupting at the same time, and lava lakes have been observed. The surface composition is mostly silicates, sulfur, and sulfur dioxide. Due to tidal interactions with Jupiter, the interior is constantly being flexed. With an internal structure more similar to terrestrial planets than other moons, it has almost no water ice. It has a crust, mantle, and hot core.

3. Callisto

CallistoWith a mean radius of 2410.3±1.5 km, we’re moving into the top three, and the true heavyweights of the Solar System’s moons. It’s the third largest in the Solar System, and the second largest of Jupiter’s moons. It has a mass of (1.075938±0.000137)×1023 kg and a mean density of 1.8344±0.0034 g/cm3. With a relatively low density, it is about half ice and half rock. It was discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. The outermost Galilean satellite, it has far less tidal influence from Jupiter, and therefore has an old, relatively inactive surface. It is covered by craters, and is considered the oldest surface in the Solar System. Unlike other large moons, it’s not very differentiated, and is mostly a mixture of rock and ice covered by a possible liquid water ocean and an icy crust. It has a thin carbon dioxide atmosphere.

2. Titan

Titan_in_true_colorWith a mean radius of 2575.5±2.0 km, Titan is the second largest moon in the Solar System, and Saturn’s largest. It’s even larger than Mercury, but has a smaller mass. It has a mass of (1.3452±0.0002)×1023 kg and a mean density of 1.8798±0.0044 g/cm3. It was discovered by Christiaan Huygens in 1655. It is the only satellite outside the Earth-Moon system that has been landed on by a space probe, the Huygens lander. It has a very thick atmosphere, thicker than Earth’s and with a 45% higher air pressure at the surface than Earth’s. The composition is mostly nitrogen with some methane and hydrogen. What makes Titan incredibly interesting is the surface. It is very Earth-like, with mountains, rivers, and lakes. However, the lakes are not water, but liquid hydrocarbons, mainly ethane and methane. There are some craters, but the surface appears to be quite young, with possible cryovolcanism. Basically, the surface is like Earth’s but ice replaces rock and hydrocarbons replace water. It’s a differentiated body with a silicate core, an ice layer, then a possible liquid water ocean, and the ice crust.

1. Ganymede

Ganymede_g1_true-edit1With a mean radius of 2634.1±0.3 km, Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System, and Jupiter’s largest. It has a mass of 1.4819×1023 kg and a mean density of 1.936 g/cm3. It was discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. The surface is quite complex with older cratered regions and a younger grooved terrain. It’s mainly water ice with some carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Some salts hint at a salty ocean beneath the surface. It’s fully differentiated with a hot iron-nickel core and silicate mantle. It’s believed there’s a thick liquid water ocean between two layers of ice. There’s an extremely tenuous oxygen atmosphere. Ganymede has its own magnetic field, and has even been observed to have aurorae. This also helps strengthen the theory that there’s a salty ocean. Tidal stresses from Jupiter aid in heating the interior, which makes Ganymede another possible candidate for life.

If you have any questions about these or any other moons of the Solar System, I’ll do my best to answer them. As this was one of my biggest interests in university, I’ve been paying attention to news related to the Solar System and its moons. Ask your questions or leave comments in the comments section below.


8 thoughts on “Top Ten Largest Moons”

  1. Europa is definitely the most fascinating one, I think. Have you seen the docu-drama Space Odyssey? Could you be nice and also list miles and such when doing these?? I see kms and my eyes cross. I’m not above googling one or two of them, but, but…please? lol.

    1. Haha. Well, if you want miles, you can estimate by dividing it in half and guessing it’s just a bit more than that number. It’s about 60% of the km value 🙂 But I’m not doing another one with km/miles for a while.

      I don’t think I’ve seen Space Odyssey, unless you mean 2001. But I don’t think that’s what you mean.

  2. Great facts. I’m really curious about Europa and what becomes of it… or rather, what goes to it. All that water, there has to be something more going on there 🙂

    1. I’m very interested, too. But it seems that Congress has ordered NASA to develop a lander for Europa. The renewed interest in NASA by Congress has been refreshing to see.

        1. Not really, but since we’ve known of it since humans could think about the fact that there’s a big bright thing in the sky, it’s been the moon, or whatever language they spoke called it.

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