License to Chill (or, the solar system’s icy moons)
by Emily Lakdawalla
A week ago yesterday, at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, I faced a choice between attending the third full session on Curiosity results or a session that covered at least eight entire worlds (including Ganymede, Europa, Dione, Rhea, Mimas, Tethys, Enceladus, and Miranda).
If I may editorialize a bit: I do think it’s appropriate at a science meeting to give new missions a somewhat disproportionate share of oral session time. With new data coming in from new kinds of instruments from new locations there is high potential for surprising results, observations that falsify or confirm the hypotheses that sent a spacecraft to a new place.
However, I do think that three full oral sessions devoted to Curiosity results was excessive, especially given how much Curiosity was discussed in all the other cross-disciplinary Mars sessions over the course of the rest of the week. So, on Tuesday morning, I attended the icy moons session (amusingly titled “License to Chill”) and enjoyed its variety!
By way of introduction, here are those eight worlds I mentioned. Ganymede, on the left, is the largest moon in the solar system, larger than Mercury. Next to it is Europa, the smallest of Jupiter’s four Galilean satellites. Next to that is Miranda, the smallest of Uranus’ major icy moons and the only one that Voyager 2 got great photos of…