Saturn from Cassini-Huygens

pp 577-612

The Thermal Evolution and Internal Structure of Saturn's Mid-Sized Icy Satellites

  • Dennis L. MatsonAffiliated withJet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
  • , Julie C. Castillo-RogezAffiliated withJet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
  • , Gerald SchubertAffiliated withUniversity of California, Los Angeles
  • , Christophe SotinAffiliated withJet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
  • , William B. McKinnonAffiliated withWashington University in St. Louis


The Cassini-Huygens mission is returning new geophysical data for the midsize, icy satellites of Saturn (i.e., satellites with radii between 100 and 1,000 km). These data have enabled a new generation of geophysical model studies for Phoebe, Iapetus, Rhea, Mimas, Tethys, Dione, as well as Enceladus (which is addressed in a separate chapter in this book). In the present chapter we consider the new model studies that have reported significant results elucidating the evolutionary histories and internal structures of these satellites. Those results have included their age, the development of their internal structures and mineralogies, which for greatest fidelity must be done concomitantly with coupled dynamical evolutions. Surface areas, volumes, bulk densities, spin rates, orbit inclinations, eccentricities, and distance from Saturn have changed as the satellites have aged. Heat is required to power the satellites' evolution, but is not overly abundant for the midsized satellites. All sources of heat must be evaluated and taken into account. This includes their intensities and when they occur and are available to facilitate evolution, both internal and dynamical. The mechanisms of heat transport must also be included. However, to model these to high fidelity the material properties of the satellite interiors must be accurately known. This is not the case. Thus, much of the chapter is devoted to discussion of what is known about these properties and how the uncertainties affect the estimation of heat sources, transport processes, and the consequential changes in composition and evolution. Phoebe has an oblate shape that may be in equilibrium with its spin period of ~9.3 h. Its orbital properties suggest that it is not one of the regular satellites, but is a captured body. Its density is higher than that of the other satellites, consistent with formation in the solar nebula rather than from material around Saturn. Oblate shape and high density are unusual for objects in this size range, and may indicate that Phoebe was heated by 26Al decay soon after its formation, which is consistent with some models of the origin of Kuiper-Belt objects. Iapetus has the shape of a hydrostatic body with a rotation period of 16 h. It subsequently despun to its current synchronous rotation state, ~79 day period. These observations are sufficient to constrain the required heating in Iapetus' early history, suggesting that it formed several My after CAI condensation. Since Saturn had to be present for Iapetus to form, this date also constrains the age of Saturn and how long it took to form. Both shape and gravitational data are available for Rhea. Gravity data were obtained from the single Cassini flyby during the prime mission and within the uncertainties cannot distinguish between hydrostatic and non-hydrostatic gravitational fields. Both Dione and Tethys display evidence of smooth terrains, with Dione's appearing considerably younger. Both are conceivably linked to tidal heating in the past, but the low rock abundance within Tethys and the lack of eccentricity excitation of Tethys' orbit today make explaining this satellite's geology challenging.