SpaceMath Home

Grade 3-5
Grade 6
Grade 7 Modules
Algebra I
Algebra II Textbook
Module 3
Understanding Decimals

Cassini: Exploring the Moons of Saturn

Objectives: Students will learn about the Cassini mission and its exploration of Saturnís moons through reading a NASA press release. By viewing a NASA eClips video segment, students will learn more about these and other moons in our solar system. Then students will use decimals to compare the sizes and distances of Saturn's moons to the center of Saturn.

Mathematics Skill or Topic Area:

Understanding Decimals

Next Gen Science Standards: ESS1: Earthís Place in the Universe; ETS2: Links Among Engineering, Technology, Science, and Society

Common Core ELA for Science: RST.6-8.2. Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions. RST.6-8.8. Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text. RST.6-8.9. Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.

Common Core Math Standard: CC.6.NS.3: Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation.

Video Engagement: Moons in our Solar System Did you know astronomers have identified more than 300 moons in our solar system? How big is Ganymede? How small is Deimos? Which moons might have what it takes to support life? Follow the NASA missions to learn about these unique bodies in space. (4 minutes). View Program

Engage your students with a press release:

Cassini Delivers Holiday Treats from Saturn!

No team of reindeer, but radio signals flying clear across the solar system from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have delivered a holiday package of glorious images. The picture shown above shows Saturn's largest, most colorful ornament, Titan, and a smaller moon called Dione in orbit around this splendid planet, and whose rings you can see in the bottom of the picture.

The pictures that were a part of this Cassini christmas card include images of satellite in which one moon passes in front of or behind another. Cassini scientists regularly make these observations to study the ever-changing orbits of the planet's moons. But even in these routine images, the Saturnian system shines. A few of Saturn's stark, airless, icy moons appear to dangle next to the orange orb of Titan, the only moon in the solar system with a substantial atmosphere. Titan's atmosphere is of great interest because of its similarities to the atmosphere believed to exist long ago on Earth soon after it formed 4.5 billion years ago.

While it may be wintry in Earth's northern hemisphere, it is currently northern spring in the Saturnian system and it will remain so for several Earth years. Current plans to extend the Cassini mission through 2017 will supply a continued bounty of scientifically rewarding and majestic views of Saturn and its moons and rings, as spectators are treated to the passage of northern spring and the arrival of summer in May 2017.

"As another year traveling this magnificent sector of our solar system draws to a close, all of us on Cassini wish all of you a very happy and peaceful holiday season, " said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

Press release date line - December 22, 2011

Press release location: [ Click Here ]

Explore math connections with


Problem I - Exploring Saturn's Moons - Although astronomers usually measure distances to a planet's satellites in multiples of the planet's radius, in this problem, we work with the distance given as a decimal fraction of the orbit distance to a planet's farthest known satellite. [Open PDF]

Problem II - Exploring Saturn's Moons - Orbit Periods - The moons of Saturn orbit the planet in time periods from hours to years. In this problem, students will organize a list of orbit periods from shortest to longest using decimal comparisons. [Open PDF]

Explain your thinking:

Write your own problem - Using information found in the Math Connection problems, the press release or the video program, create your own math problem. Explain why you set the problem up this way, and how you might find its answer.

Evaluate your understanding:

Challenge Problem - The distances of each moon from Saturn can be written in units of millions of kilometers so that '18.5' equals 18.5 million kilometers. Can you answer questions about the moon distances in terms of these decimal numbers? [Open PDF]



3-D Solar System

Extend your new knowledge - Visit Saturn using the EOSS simulator and explore how Cassini orbits this beautiful planet. [ Open PDF ]