Moon with a View: Or, What Did Arthur Know … and When Did He Know it?
THE MOST BAFFLING … BUT ARGUABLY, THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT OBJECT IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM ….
Iapetus [eye-AP-i-tus] is the seventeenth of Saturn’s thirty three currently known moons, and the third largest. It was named after a Titan — the son of Uranus and the father of Prometheus and Atlas (the latter said to be the “fathers of Mankind”). Thus, in Greek myth, Iapetus was also an ancestor … a progenitor… of “Homo Sapiens Sapiens” ….
Iapetus was first seen via telescope by Jean-Dominique Cassini, in 1671.
Iapetus’ actual name, however, was only given to it a hundred and seventy six years after it was first seen by Cassini (who merely referred to it, and the other three star-like objects he also discovered circling Saturn, as “Lodicea Sidera” –“the stars of Louis” — in honor of France’s King Louis XIV, who had appointed him France’s “chief astronomer”).
The current names of Saturn’s major moons, taken from a group of “superbeings” in Greek myth called “Titans,” were given them by Sir John Herschel, in 1847. Herschel’s nomenclature for Iapetus and the other six (then) known moons, was based on the logical association of Saturn (“Cronus” in Greek) with the Titans; Herschel, continuing the ritual, named the largest Saturnian moon “Titan” itself – in honor of the entire pantheon.
Speaking of names: Cassini would go on to eventually discover the largest “gap” in Saturn’s splendid, bewilderingly complex rings, five years after discovering Iapteus … in 1676. This was later appropriately named after its own discoverer – the “Cassini Division” (below, under spacecraft). It is, of course, because of Cassini’s record of several major astronomical discoveries at Saturn, that the current unmanned Saturn mission is so-named ….
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Iapetus’ most singular characteristic is the fact that, in Cassini’s small, 17th century refracting telescope (it only had an objective lens two inches in diameter!), the faint Saturnian moon (about 100 times dimmer than the faintest object visible to the unaided naked eye) seemed to literally disappear about every 40 days … for half its 79-day orbit!
As Cassini watched, Iapetus would be visible during its so-called “western elongation” (when it was west of Saturn in the sky), but would then progressively get dimmer as it curved around and passed behind the planet, until it completely vanished as it approached “eastern elongation.” Then, a few days later, it would “magically” reappear … as an extremely faint “star” … growing steadily in brightness, until it reached its farthest distance west of Saturn once again and its greatest brightness!
This puzzling behavior would then mysteriously repeat — like the newly invented mechanical clockwork — every 79 days; a mysterious “winking” moon … orbiting Saturn … for as long as Cassini observed.
Although he was only capable of observing Iapetus in his small telescope as a “dimensionless point of light,” Cassini correctly theorized that this “winking moon” phenomenon had to be due to the fact that one entire hemisphere of Iapetus must be vastly brighter than the other half – and that the moon was synchronously rotating (with one hemisphere continuously facing Saturn – like Earth’s Moon always faces Earth) as Iapetus revolved around the distant ringed planet in its 79-day orbit (below). If the leading hemisphere of Iapetus was “very dark” Cassini theorized, and the trailing hemisphere “remarkably bright,” this simple geometry would result in the distant moon periodically falling below detectability in his “modest glass …”
Three hundred ten years later – on November 14, 1980 — the NASA Voyager 1 unmanned spacecraft transmitted, from only a few hundred thousand miles away, the first clear image back to Earth showing that Cassini had been right! Remarkably, the entire “front half” of Iapetus was fully ten times darker than the “back half” – the former reflecting only about as much light as a piece of charcoal … or (as Arthur put it in “2001”) burnt toast!
The geometry of this inexplicable dichotomy also proved unique (below): for obvious reasons, Iapetus forever earned the title that evening, after Voyager’s historic first fully resolved images were sent home, of—
“The Yin/Yang Moon” ….
Voyager acquired many images as it approached Iapetus for the first time. On some of them (below – left), a large (~ 150 mile diameter), dark, ring-shaped feature appeared on the side of the moon facing Saturn. In the center of the ring — almost exactly as Arthur had described it before anyone could have seen it — was an “elliptical white region … with a blackcenter!”
Arthur later reported that our mutual friend and colleague, the late Carl Sagan — who was one of the Voyager imaging team members – some time after the first Iapetus encounter, sent him one of these remarkable photos (above) … along with a note:
“Thinking of you ….”
In these first fascinating images, tangent to this giant ring (above) – in fact, appearing to emanate from it in some kind of “directed spray pattern!” — was the far larger, extremely dark, elliptical feature which appeared to cover the entire “front” of this exotic moon. This was strikingly confirmed by a somewhat closer shot, taken in approximate natural color by the follow-on Voyager 2 spacecraft (and, of the opposite side of the moon — the one facing away from Saturn) … in August, 1981 (below).
Another, closer shot — this time, of the Saturn side of Iapetus again, from the current Cassini mission (below). Imaged by Cassini’s much superior solid-state cameras, in July, 2004, the view confirms Voyager’s remarkable first impressions ….
Mercator projection maps (below), created from images secured during both Voyager fly-bys (the black regions are areas not covered by either spacecraft), confirm this remarkable geometric aspect of “the dark side of Iapetus”: the extraordinarily dark region traces an almost exact elliptical pattern on the “front” of this increasingly bizarre moon ….
But the cause if this unique, geometric “two-toned” surface was still as mysterious after the two historic Voyager encounters … as before.
Thus, it was with some anticipation that those of us who were lucky enough to be at JPL the night of the first Voyager Iapetus images twenty five years ago, looked forward a few weeks ago to the closest fly-by of Iapetus to date – to be accomplished by the Cassini spacecraft, on New Year’s Eve, 2004.
Passing as close at 40,000 miles, and with cameras orders of magnitude superior to Voyagers’, the results of the December 31, 2004 Cassini imaging did not disappoint: not only do the details surpass all prior expectations … they reveal even deeper mysteries surrounding this increasingly exotic moon ….
The distant images immediately confirmed one curious impression left from the Voyager encounters of a quarter century before: in addition to its other unique characteristics, Iapetus does not seem to be a perfectly round moon!
A comparison with a real sphere (below-right) reveals that, from this angle, Iapetus is visibly “squashed” — by something like 50 miles out of its 900, or about 5%. For solid rocky bodies larger than a few hundred miles across, the relentless force of gravity always overcomes the innate tensile strength of such materials, and forces them to assume a spherical geometry. For solid icy bodies (those possessing less tensile strength), the limiting size before a sphere is formed is even smaller.
The key to defining this upper “roundness” limit lies in remotely determining a moon’s “specific gravity,” which will in turn reveal its average composition.
The means of doing this via an orbiting or passing spacecraft, is by optically measuring the object’s diameter (from images), then comparing that to its overall mass (derived from observing the effect of its gravitational field on the spacecraft’s trajectory). This mass determination, divided into the optical diameter, then gives the average density of the object – which, in turn, can narrow down its potential composition.
Earth’s Moon, for example, has an average density of “3.34” (3.34 times a similar-sized sphere composed of water) – revealing it to be composed primarily of much denser “silicates” … a rocky object. Thus, at 2160 miles across, despite the significant tensile strength of “rocks,” the Moon’s own gravity has crushed it down to almost a perfect sphere, as seen from Earth.
For Iapetus, Voyager’s measured density (via the techniques described above) is about 1.21 – clearly only slightly denser than an equal sized body made of water (there were obviously a few rocky “impurities” incorporated into Iapteus during in its formation, slightly increasing its average density …). Because this solid, mostly icy body measures almost 900 miles across, yet rotates only once every 79 days, any equatorial “centrifugal force” is clearly insignificant. Thus, this cannot be the source of Iapetus’ major “out of roundness.”
Coupled with the density observations of Voyager (and now Cassini), these simple calculations assure that Iapetus’ basic shape (not counting pieces blown off by external comet impacts …) should be essentially a perfect sphere. Several of Saturn’s significantly smaller moons — like Mimas and Enceladus — although also icy objects, are spheres ….
Clearly, for some important reason Iapteus is not.
Now, look again at the left-hand image of Iapetus (above). What’s that “thing” … sticking up twelve miles above the left-hand limb? According to NASA’s official description of this image, it reveals in 3-D–
… a long narrow ridge that lies almost exactly on the equator of Iapetus ….
The release then goes on to say, with serious understatement:
… no other moon in the solar system has such a striking geological feature ….
On color versions of the same image (below) — created by compositing three Cassini views taken through ultraviolet, green and infrared filters – the contrast between the bizarre “chocolate brown” of the leading hemisphere, and the brilliant white “polar caps” north and south — is particularly striking.
As is the presence of that baffling, arrow-straight, 12-mile-high (~60,000 foot!) “wall” — which precisely bisects the leading hemisphere, and apparently crosses the entire width of this strangely darkened “Cassini Regio” … over 800 miles in length.
… for weeks, as it stared forever Sunward with its strange senses, the Star Gate had watched the approaching ship. Its makers had prepared it for many things, and this was one of them. It recognized what was climbing up toward it from the warm heart of the Solar System.
If it had been alive, it would have felt excitement, but such an emotion was wholly beyond its powers. Even if the ship had passed it by, it would not have known the slightest trace of disappointment. It had waited three million years; it was prepared to wait for eternity ….
There has hardly been an observer, viewing these astonishing new Cassini images of Saturn’s strangest moon, who has not also thought of Arthur Clarke … and “2001.”
But some, after seeing the staggering equatorial feature now girdling Iapetus, reached back even further into Arthur’s past, to recall an earlier, equally prescient short story, called eerily—
“The Wall of Darkness.”
… In a universe consisting of one star and one planet, here is a mysterious impenetrable wall surrounding the entire planet in the deep freezing southlands. Two men,one with money, the other with building skills, engage in a long-term program to scale the wall and find out what’s on the other side. The answer turns out to be … rather upsetting ….
In our opinion, Cassini’s discovery of “the Great Wall of Iapetus” now forces serious reconsideration of a range of staggering possibilities … that some will most certainly find … upsetting:
That, it could really be a “wall” … a vast, planet spanning, artificial construct!!
This is not the first time that startling new data has prompted scientific consideration of “intelligence” at Saturn.
In addition to Arthur’s well-known musings, the extreme albedo range displayed by Iapetus prompted a sober suggestion in the 1980’s, that “the brightness variations might beartificial.” Donald Goldsmith and Tobias Owen (the latter, the NASA discoverer of “the face on Mars!”) wrote of Iapetus in The Search for Life in the Universe (1980):
This unusual moon is the only object in the Solar System which we might seriously regard as an alien signpost – a natural objectdeliberately modified by an advanced civilization to attract our attention [emphasis added] ….
However, now that Cassini has revealed to us unquestionably the greatest linear feature in the solar system (below), such scientific speculations take on added urgency – if, for no other reason — because—
There is no viable geological model to explain a sixty thousand-foot-high, sixty thousand-foot-wide, four million-foot-long “wall” … spanning an entire planetary hemisphere … let alone, located in the precise plane of its equator!
It is a well-known cliché that “Nature doesn’t usually create straight lines.” If that is true, then it certainly doesn’t create three of them (close-up-below) – all running parallel, not only to each other, but to the literal equator of the planet.
“Nature” also doesn’t create a veritable “Maginot Line” of the geometric complexity and regularity seen here … certainly not one stretching horizontally, across this one small section of Iapetus, for over sixty miles ….
Therefore, ignoring for the moment “who” might have constructed such an astounding edifice, and for “what reason,” the most important question at this stage is simply:
“Is it feasible? Could a literal wall — 12 miles high … and 12 miles wide — be technologically constructed on Iapetus?!”
The short answer is: yes.
The largest skyscraper currently planned for Earth is soon to be completed in the oil-rich kingdom of Dubai. The massive structure (below), assembled with conventional concrete and steel but in a “buttressed core configuration,” will reach an unprecedented height of 2312 feet when completed, projected for sometime in 2008!
Scaled according to the surface gravity of Iapetus – which is only 1/40th the strength of the surface gravity of Earth! – a similar skyscraper on the 900-mile-wide moon of Saturn could reach up 15 miles.
A “wall-like” structure — as wide as it is tall – because of strong lateral support, could reach far higher in such a weak gravity field.
So, even with “conventional” building materials common in the early 21st Century on Earth, constructing the “Great Wall of Iapetus” poses no significant theoretical problems (except for the money, of course!). And, for any advanced “extraterrestrial materials” (nanotubes, carbon fibers, zero-gravity crystalline titanium and steel, etc. …) the practical problems in constructing even such a structure as the “Great Wall” … would be trivial. Especially–
If armies of computer-controlled, robotic construction “workers” (or even more advanced versions, billions of nanobots) were involved ….
“That’s no moon, it’s a space station.” Saturn’s Moon, Iapetus
Iapetus is the third largest moon of Saturn and the eleventh largest moon in the solar system. This ,my friends, currently has to be the most compelling find in our entire solar system. This moon is considered the yin-yang of Saturn’s moon because of its incredible two-tone 50/50 split. One side of the moon, called Cassini Regio, is a dark region and has a reflectivity of something like asphalt. The other side, “Roncevaux Terra,” is as white as snow. But the most intriguing feature of this moon that has scientists baffled is a bizarre ridge that’s twice the height of Mount Everest and circles most of Iapetus smack dab in the middle. There are no viable geological models to explain this 12 mile wide, 12 mile high, 800 mile long wall. They say if you lived near this incredible monstrosity, it would take up one half of the entire sky. This is the only place in the universe were a ridge like this has been discovered.
The fact that no one on earth as any idea how a ridge like this could have formed naturally, raises the question of, well, . . . if it wasn’t formed by the solar system, then by what? Or more importantly, who? Would it even be possible to build a structure of this magnitude? Why yes, it most certainly is. If you think about it, the largest skyscraper in the world is the Burj Dubai measuring in at an impressive 2,789 feet. Now with the gravitational pull of Iapetus being only 1/40th of that of earth, a similar skyscraper built on Iapetus could reach 15 miles. This huge ridge is as wide as it is tall. If it is artificial, with strong lateral support it could actually reach much higher in such a weak gravity field.
The rabbit hole doesn’t stop here though. Not only is this moon half black, half white, with a ginormous ridge around it, its shape is geometric! This is impossible, though, because all other natural moons larger than 250 miles across are always spherical due to their greater gravity. Iapetus is a 900 mile wide, eroded, truncated icosahedron.
The fact that this moon has this type of geometrical shape would imply that this moon was made by intelligent design. If so, it follows that the moon might also be hollow.
Here is where things really start to hit the fan.
A huge square (outlined, incomplete) along with other perfectly strait enormous lines????
Lets take a closer look at the surface and see what else we find. I have taken the liberty of highlighting the areas of interest.
There is no denying the images before you, nor is there any scientific explanation.
Click on this image to take a closer look. I have highlighted the areas that seem to be something other than a natural formation.
Again, please click on the image to see the full size. Welcome to the ancient city on Iapetus.
Here is a topographical map of the surface of Iapetus taken in May of 2008. Take a look for yourself. All of these photos can be found atNASA.
I know so many people may read this and say to them selves, “This is nonsense! Aliens building moons? Ridiculous!”
Is it really that hard to believe? How does anybody know that this wasn’t built a billion years ago and is now an ancient alien artifact? It would make sense that it’s extremely old considering the wear and tear. Think for a second that this is a space station built by another race of beings billions of years ago. Who were they and what was it used for? The evidence is startling.
The Death Star from Star Wars – 1977: The first photo of Iapetus was taken in 1981, four year later.
This is a Klerksdorp Sphere found in South Africa and is dated to be 2.8 billion years old. A striking resemblance don’t you think?
Why is it that so many people have a hard time believing that something like this could be the result of intelligence other than ours? I say it’s because our human minds are too consumed with what is happening in our so called realities. It’s hard to fathom that an ancient alien moon base has been floating around Saturn longer then anything we know. But what if my interpretation of the evidence above is correct? You have the same evidence right in front of you, and it’s up to you to accept it. Try to let go of conventional thinking, which can trap your ability to think freely. Explore the unknown and enjoy the adventure as you obtain your Attainable Mind.