NASA Images Reveal Weird Shape Of Saturn’s Moon Pan

Posted: Mar 10 2017, 11:20pm CST | by , Updated: Mar 10 2017, 11:33pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

NASA Images Reveal Weird Shape of Saturn’s Moon Pan
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
 

Saturn's small moon Pan looks like a space ravioli or may be a walnut

After studying Saturn for more than 13 years, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has finally given us a close-up view of its small moon Pan. And it shows how strange the Saturn moon is.

Astronomers have long known that Saturn’s moon Pan has an odd shape. In the previous images taken from a distance, it looked more like a walnut or a flying saucer. But latest close-up images reveal that it bears an uncanny resemblance to a dumpling or ravioli floating in space.

Pan, the second innermost moon of Saturn, is about 22 miles wide and lives in the gap of Saturn’s A-ring. It orbits 83,000 miles away from the planet and takes around 14 hours to complete a rotation. Since Pan exists in the gap of a ring, it acts as a shepherd moon, continually clearing debris from the gap and keeping it open and free of dust.

The latest images were taken on March 7, 2017, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. When images were taken, the spacecraft was about 24,572 kilometers away from the moon. It’s the closest any spacecraft has been to Saturn’s moon.

“These images are the closest images ever taken of Pan and will help to characterize its shape and geology.” NASA scientists wrote in the brief description of the photos.”

The images are just few hours old. So, scientists have not yet had time to process them or to estimate the features of the moon. The images of the Pan have been released as close to their original raw form as they arrived. But they are spectacular enough to stun scientists.

When planetary scientist and Cassini imaging lead Carolyn Porco saw the new images of Pan she thought they might have been an artist’s representation, not real images.

Cassini, in orbit around Saturn and its rings since 2004, is now in the final year of its epic voyage. The spacecraft is going through a series of close flybys in and around the Saturn’s poles and its rings, which will continue for the next several months. 

On Sept. 15, the mission will be ended with a final dive into Saturn's atmosphere. During its plunge, Cassini will continue transmit data about the planet’s composition until its signal is lost.

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