In the months before it burned up in Saturn’s atmosphere, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft snapped some awesome shots of the planet’s small, weirdly shaped moons.
How weird? “Rather than being spherical, the (moons) are blobby and ravioli-like, with material stuck around their equators,” NASA said in a statement.
One of them, Pan looks like a walnut, while another, Epimetheus, resembles a potato.
According to a new study published Thursday, the moons are shaped so strangely because they’ve picked up dust and ice from Saturn’s famous nearby rings. “We found these moons are scooping up particles of ice and dust from the rings to form the little skirts around their equators,” said planetary scientist Bonnie Buratti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Though Saturn has 60 moons overall, this part of the Cassini mission just explored the few tiny moons that are very close to – or even embedded within – the planet’s rings.
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The moons are also various colors, including red and blue. The colors came from ice volcanoes or possibly from some red material in the rings, Space.com said.
The discoveries provide “more evidence of how extremely active and dynamic the Saturn ring and moon system is,” Buratti said.
Cassini’s mission ended in September 2017, when it was low on fuel, NASA reported. Mission controllers deliberately plunged Cassini into Saturn’s atmosphere rather than risk crashing the spacecraft into the planet’s moons.
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Though Cassini is gone, there’s still more data to analyze from the mission: “I want to work for at least another decade on this stuff,” Buratti told AFP.
The findings were published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science.