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Saturn's Ravioli-Shaped 'Ring Moons' May Have Formed From a Giant Impact

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#1 LFC

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Posted 28 March 2019 - 02:11 PM

Pretty cool stuff from the Cassini probe to the rings of Saturn. Sounds like the data may be creating more questions than answers.


During the final days of the legendary Cassini mission, the NASA spacecraft performed a series of ring-skimming orbits around Saturn, snapping unprecedented images of the gas giant’s enigmatic ring moons. These photos and other data have now been analyzed by astronomers, shedding new light on these elusive objects and the origin of Saturn’s majestic rings.

Saturn has about 60 known moons, a small handful of which are parked inside, or closely interact with, the planet’s ring system. New research published today in Science is dropping some new knowledge about five of these ring moons—Pan, Daphnis, Atlas, Pandora, and Epimetheus—including details about their shape and composition. The new paper, led by Bonnie Buratti from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology, is also providing new insights into Saturn’s ring system and how it might have formed.

Cassini’s six ring-grazing orbits occurred between December 2016 and April 2017, with the mission coming to an end in September 2017 when the probe deliberately crashed into Saturn. The images taken by Cassini were stunning, showing moons unlike anything ever seen before.

Take Pan, for example, a five-mile-wide (8 km) moon with distinctive grooves on its surface and a bulging equatorial ridge reminiscent of a tutu. Daphnis sits in a precarious orbit within a gap in Saturn’s ring, and it also features a “skirt” around its equator.

Indeed, these five inner moons—none of which is wider than about 12 miles (20 km)—are quite peculiar, featuring unconventional shapes, surface features, and colors. What’s more, they appear to have a close, but poorly understood, relationship with Saturn’s rings. Equipped with the new Cassini data and these unprecedented close-up images, Buratti and her colleagues were able to take a deeper look into these mysterious objects.

“We were trying to understand how the ring moons and the main ring system are related,” Buratti told Gizmodo. “Mainly, are they one and the same?”

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