Phoebe (, or as in Greek Φοίβη) is an irregular satellite of Saturn. It was discovered by William Henry Pickering on March 17, 1899 from photographic plates that had been taken starting on August 16, 1898 at Arequipa, Peru by DeLisle Stewart. It was the first satellite to be discovered photographically. The rarely used adjectival form of the name is Phoebean.
Phoebe was the first target encountered upon the arrival of Cassini–Huygens to the Saturn system in 2004, and is thus unusually well-studied for a natural satellite of its size. Cassini's trajectory to Saturn and time of arrival were specifically chosen to permit this flyby. After the encounter and its insertion orbit, Cassini would not go much beyond the orbit of Iapetus.
All of Saturn's moons up to Iapetus orbit very nearly in the plane of Saturn's equator. The outer irregular satellites follow fairly to highly eccentric orbits, and none is expected to rotate synchronously as all the inner moons of Saturn do (except for Hyperion). See Saturn's satellites families.
Phoebe is roughly spherical and has a diameter of 220 kilometres (about 137 miles), which is equal to about one-fifteenth of the diameter of Earth's moon. Phoebe rotates on its axis every nine hours and it completes a full orbit around Saturn in about 18 months. Its surface temperature is only 75 K (-198°C).
Most of Saturn's inner moons have very bright surfaces, but Phoebe's albedo is very low (0.06), as dark as lampblack. The Phoebean surface is extremely heavily scarred, with craters up to 80 kilometres across, one of which has walls 16 kilometres high.
Phoebe's dark coloring initially led to scientists surmising that it was a captured asteroid, as it resembled the common class of dark carbonaceous asteroids. These are chemically very primitive and are thought to be composed of original solids that condensed out of the solar nebula with little modification since then.
However, images from the Cassini-Huygens space probe indicate that Phoebe's craters show a considerable variation in brightness, which indicate the presence of large quantities of ice below a relatively thin blanket of dark surface deposits some 300 to 500 metres (980 to 1,600 feet) thick. In addition, quantities of carbon dioxide have been detected on the surface, a finding which has never been replicated on an asteroid. It is estimated that Phoebe is about 50% rock, as opposed to the 35% or so that typifies Saturn's inner moons. For these reasons, scientists are coming to believe that Phoebe is in fact a captured Centaur, one of a number of icy planetoids from the Kuiper belt that orbit the Sun between Jupiter and Neptune. Phoebe is the first such object to be imaged as anything other than a dot.
Material displaced from Phoebe's surface by microscopic meteor impacts may be responsible for the dark surfaces of Hyperion. Debris from the biggest impacts may have been the building blocks of the other moons of Phoebe's group—all of which are less than 10 km in diameter.
The lower latitudes have been clipped from the main map, but can be seen in this polar projection:
The Voyager 2 spacecraft passed by Phoebe in September 1981, although the 2.2 Gm (2.2 million kilometres) distance and low resolution meant that relatively little could be learned from the resulting images.
The Cassini spacecraft flew within 2,068 kilometers (about 1,285 miles) of Phoebe on June 11, 2004, returning many high-resolution images of the moon and its scarred surface. By a stroke of pure luck, Phoebe happened to be in the best part of its orbit to be photographed by the incoming Cassini probe, which otherwise would not likely have returned pictures much better than Voyager due to Phoebe's distance from Saturn. In addition, due to its rapid rotation period of approximately 9 hours, 56 minutes, Cassini was able to map virtually the entire surface of Phoebe.