Well, they’re not as stunning as, maybe, Titan, but they’re so cool I just had to write about them!
Around the early 2000s, a huge bundle of moons were discovered by Scott Sheppard and Brett Gladman and their teams. To sort of diversify the names of moons and planets, as most of them were Greek or Roman, the IAU decided to name new objects after other mythological beings such as Inuit, Hawai’ian and Norse. Me, being a huge Norse nerd, latched onto these moons like crazy!
Here’s Tilman Denk’s website with all the data and information about these moons. Denk was one of the researchers for these moons!
This little moon was one of the first to be discovered, hence the name. In the mythology Ymir was the first being, made when the fiery realm of Muspelheim combined with the cold rime of Nilfheim. Ymir is both male and female, and from them came the jötnar (giants, but the actual word means “devour”).
The moon is large (19 km wide approx) compared to the other moons in its region, and it takes just over 3.5 years to orbit Saturn in retrograde motion.
Interestingly, we don’t think Ymir is spherical. Artists’ impressions depict it as… well I’m not sure how to describe it. It looks like a tumble gemstone!
Skathi or Skaði is an extremely tiny moon. It is estimated to be only 8km in diameter, thus it’s one of the dimmest moons of Saturn. Despite this, Skathi gets it’s own subgroup of moons, which includes Skoll, Hyrrokkin and many other moons named after giants.
Skathi is a fast orbiter, being one of the fastest moons of Saturn, but its orbit is very elliptical. Astronomer’s don’t know Skathi’s composition yet, but from what we know it could be another moon’s debris or a captured asteroid. These ideas would explain the irregularity of Skathi’s orbit and extreme speed.
Skaði was a jötun (giant) who we tend to associate with Winter and hunting. She is even called the Ski God, despite not really being a god. Her stories are rather fun, some of which a bit inappropriate for this blog!
Originally the IAU were going to make the name Skadi, but I think someone realised how horrendous that would be and changed the name to the correct transliteration. ð is pronounced th, not d. If you write skadi, I will personally find you and shoot you.
Some of the Moons still don’t have names
It’s a shame to see some of the moons nameless. I remember in 2019 there was a call for name suggestions on Twitter by the IAU, but when I searched for it I can’t find it. Perhaps I was dreaming? I could swear we called one moon Loki.
If I could name a moon I would name one Ran or Rán. She is a giantess, but is also recognised as one of the ásynjur (Goddesses) and is associated with the sea. She has a lot of connections to gold in historical texts. Her hall (where those who died at sea go) is lit by “glowing gold” which is essentially a fire, and she catches the dead and takes them to her hall with a golden net.
Saturn is a pretty gold-coloured planet, so it seems fitting that a moon of Saturn would be called Ran. And of course, we have a moon called Aegir, her husband. Sounds pretty fitting if you ask me!
Interesting that one of those moons might be a piece of debris from another moon. I wonder if that might help us figure out how the rings formed. I know one hypothesis has it that the rings formed fairly recently due to the destruction of one or more former moons.
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That is one of the leading theories, and it seems Saturn just likes to break things up! Perhaps these moons are just large debris from the destruction, but the rings could also have formed from a circumplanetary disk, in which the moons themselves could have been captured or made from particularly large clumps of matter in the disk. The Norse moons could have been made in the disk, but I have a feeling moons like Titan have a far more complex history that we need to discover!
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