Moon Or Space Dumpling? You Decide

Mar 15, 2017

By Jessica Body

Over 700 million miles away, a tiny space dumpling orbits Saturn.

At least, that’s the food item that came to my mind after checking out the new images of Saturn’s moon Pan. Since the images were snapped by NASA spacecraft Cassini on Tuesday and released Thursday, others have suggested the moon looks like a classic Italian ravioli, a flaky empanada, and even a walnut. I think it could also pass as a pierogi or maybe even a gyoza.

Some even wrote songs about the petite moon because of its strikingly ravioli-esque appearance.

These are the closest images ever taken of the moon — Cassini flew by just 15,268 miles from Pan to capture its appearance. The moon has a radius of less than 9 miles.

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One comment on “Moon Or Space Dumpling? You Decide”

  • From the NASA link on the OP link –
    Pan, the innermost of Saturn’s known moons, has a mean radius of 8.8 miles (14.1 km) and orbits 83,000 miles (134,000 km) away from Saturn, within the Encke Gap of Saturn’s A-ring.
    As it orbits Saturn every 13.8 hours, it acts as a shepherd moon and is responsible for keeping the Encke Gap open.
    The gap is a 200 mile (325 km) opening in Saturn’s A ring.

    Pan creates stripes, called “wakes,” in the ring material on either side of it.
    Since ring particles closer to Saturn than Pan move faster in their orbits, these particles pass the moon and receive a gravitational “kick” from Pan as they do.
    This kick causes waves to develop in the gap and also throughout the ring, extending hundreds of miles into the rings.
    These waves intersect downstream to create the wakes, places where ring material has bunched up in an orderly manner thanks to Pan’s gravitational kick.

    Pan, like Saturn’s moon Atlas, has a prominent equatorial ridge that gives it a distinctive flying saucer shape.

    As it says on this link, Pan is one of Saturn’s shepherd moons.
    That is one of the small moons which clear gaps between the rings, and keep the ring particles in place in their near circular orbits.

    The scientists noted that, in their simulation, if these moons are composed entirely of ice particles then they would crumble in a collision, with the resulting debris contributing to the ring. However, if the moons have a secret core made of silicate then they’re equipped to survive a collision.

    This simulation doesn’t just apply to Saturn: it also has applications to another ring found in the Solar System: The epsilon ring found encircling Uranus, which also has shepherd moons.

    “Thus, those ring dynamics and formation of shepherd moons are not unique to Saturn but can be ubiquitous around giant planets in the universe,” concluded Hyodo.

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