Follow this link to skip to the main content

International Edition Winners - 2013: Canada, Target 1, Grade 9

International Edition Winners - 2013: Canada, Target 1, Grade 9

Rainbow Chen
Target 1, Iapetus
Rainbow Chen

Earl Haig Secondary School
North York, Ontario


"Isaac stands on the magnificent equatorial ridge that wraps halfway around the satellite flawlessly, still gasping as he has just finished climbing the 12 mile tall mountain range with his heavy spacesuit meanwhile mesmerized by the panoramic view below.

He checks the time and smiles with delight, knowing that there are only 3 more minutes before the 22nd century will arrive. This year, he spends his vacation on Iapetus thanks to the Cassini probe camera which surveyed the moon 100 years ago.

As the first human to land on this icy moon, Isaac finally accomplishes his wish since childhood--to discover the composition of Iapetus's darker hemisphere. It was not only his dream, but also the dream of millions of scientists over the centuries.

Among the 53 officially named moons that orbit Saturn, Iapetus is definitely a unique or, rather, bizarre one. Discovering this moon was particularly challenging as it was often invisible from Earth. The Italian astronomer, Giovanni Cassini concluded that the color of Iapetus varies on both sides after spotting it in 1671. While one side is coal-black, the backside is significantly brighter with a creamy gray coating. This appearance has always intrigued astronomers. The Cassini mission had formerly imaged the surface to help uncover the secret of Iapetus, although a higher resolution is required in the future. One reasoning stated that dark hydrocarbon erupted from the ice volcanoes and deposited on the surface, while others believed that it was caused by the global migration of water ice from the dark side to the brighter side due to a difference in temperature. The most supported conclusion was that a "smoking gun" in the area where Phoebe, another Saturnian satellite, is situated fired off dusty debris which then bombarded only the leading side of Iapetus. However, even today, the answer to this yin-yang appearance remains as a mystery.

More interestingly, the equator of Iapetus is distinctively highlighted by a mountain chain that stretches more than 1,300 km. In some places, the peaks can rise up to 20 km and are considered the highest mountains in the solar system. This mountain range forms a natural belt for this spectacular satellite.

These features have been stunning and perplexing for hundreds of years, but Iapetus's legend does not end there. Its angular structure once convinced people that, instead of a Saturnian natural satellite, Iapetus is in fact built by an enigmatic civilization that lived elsewhere in the vast universe. Despite its oblate shape which suggests a fast revolution period, Iapetus travels at an extremely slow pace, completing an orbit once every 79 days.

Numerous myths encircle this dazzling satellite. Why does Iapetus have a contrasting coloration? How did the equatorial ridge form? This unfathomable moon is calling for more attention. If we want to help Isaac land on Iapetus in the 2100s knowing the answers to all of the enigmas above, the Cassini probe must adjust its camera toward the direction of this moon right now."