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Saturn's Black-White Moon Lapetus


Of all the anomalies found in space, the strange half-white, half-black sides of Saturn's moon Lapetus are among the most peculiar.


Astronomers and world scientists are hoping to find out more about this puzzling body when the Cassini spacecraft arrives and begins close-up photographs and other scientific examinations of not only Saturn, but the moons. Lapetus will surely be among the objects to be studied.


The third largest of 19 known moons circling Saturn, Lapetus is 907 miles wide and circles Saturn at a distance of about 2.2 million miles. Like the Earth's moon, Lapetus does not appear to spin if examined from the surface of the planet.


What is odd is that the darker side of Lapetus always faces forward, into the moon's orbital path. This led to one theory that the black face of Lapetus is caused by flying space debris, perhaps flying from the surface of the dark moon Phoebe after meteor strikes. Others disagree since Phoebe orbits in the opposite direction and is not the same exact color as the dark face of Lapetus.


Information already known about Lapetus is that the dark material seems to be concentrated in the bottoms of craters. This has caused some to think that a chemical or mineral that is causing the color is oozing up from within the moon.


The light side of Lapetus appears to be ice. The hue of it suggests that it consists of water mixed with ammonia.


A recent story in said a radar scan of Lapetus at Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, has created yet another mystery. Radar sees Lapetus as a "uniform object, meaning no difference between the light and dark sides," said astronomer Gregory Black at the University of Virginia.


Black suggested this could mean that the dark side is ice covered with a thin coat of "some darkening material . . . like an inch of dirt atop clean snow."


Whatever the answer to the riddle of Lapetus, the moon is an interesting model of contrast that exists in our Solar System.


Everywhere we look there are reminders of the duality of the universe. Two opposite things brings balance, and balance always brings perfection. This is our message from not only the world about us, but now also from the stars.