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Space Earth Moon NASA Science

Stunning Close-up of Saturn's Moon, Pan, Reveals a Space Empanada (sciencemag.org) 63

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: Astronomers have long known that Pan, one of Saturn's innermost moons, has an odd look. Based on images taken from a distance, researchers have said it looks like a walnut or a flying saucer. But now, NASA's Cassini probe has delivered stunning close-ups of the 35-kilometer-wide icy moon, and it might be better called a pan-fried dumpling or an empanada. Pan orbits Saturn in a gap in the planet's rings and pulls material from them, so the ridge around it likely started accumulating soon after the moon formed, researchers say. If material in the ridge is still loose, rather than somehow fused together, the ridge can maintain its steepness only because the moon's gravity is so low. The latest pictures were obtained as Cassini conducts its final (and riskiest) flybys past Saturn's moons and rings before it blazes into the planet's atmosphere later this year.
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Stunning Close-up of Saturn's Moon, Pan, Reveals a Space Empanada

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  • Frist! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 10, 2017 @06:13AM (#54011471)

    More like ravioli. :-9

  • Adorable (Score:5, Funny)

    by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Friday March 10, 2017 @06:14AM (#54011477) Homepage

    A little baby Saturn copying its mother (or is it big sister?)

  • Why does this picture look like a very basic computer simulation of a lump of rock, and nothing at all like a photo. How was the picture actually taken?
    • Re:Render (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday March 10, 2017 @06:48AM (#54011533) Homepage

      It's incredibly smooth and uncratered because it's constantly accumulating fine-grained ring material. Think of it like a sand dune in space.

      Also, people are generally used to images of the outer planets and their moons being poor quality (grainy, uneven lighting, often colorized poorly), but Cassini's imaging science subsystem is excellent. Really, everything about this spacecraft and mission has been superb, it's going to be such a shame to see it go. A very expensive mission, but worth every bit.

      • OK, but the detail still looks undefined - was it taken from a long way away, and this is a crop on the file?
        • Re: Render (Score:5, Informative)

          by Jesus H Rolle ( 4603733 ) on Friday March 10, 2017 @07:33AM (#54011601)
          Saturn's 9.5 au from the sun, so gets 1/9.5^2 = ~1.1% the light we do. It's dark out there. This makes for low quality photos.

          Here [nasa.gov] is a better link with the originals and a link to katrillions of raw images.

          • >Saturn's 9.5 au from the sun, so gets 1/9.5^2 = ~1.1% the light we do. It's dark out there.

            Which makes it equivalent to dawn or dusk on Earth with clear skies. Dim, but human eyes would still adjust and get the job done... and still plenty of light for a good imaging system (though adding in the incredible distances, the hazardous environment, and the ruggedness requirements just to survive the launch from Earth makes it impressive).

          • by Ocrad ( 773915 )

            Here [nasa.gov] is a better link with the originals and a link to katrillions of raw images.

            It is not a better link; it requires javascript to even see it.

        • Re:Render (Score:5, Informative)

          by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday March 10, 2017 @07:57AM (#54011641) Homepage

          Everything in space is taken from "a long way away" relative to what we're used to in our everyday lives, as spacecraft move at speeds generally best measured in kilometers per second.

          Hmm, I think I see the problem. You're expecting images that look like when they take photos of much larger bodies - for example, this also recent image [amazonaws.com], of Mimas. But Mimas is about 400 kilometers in diameter, while Pan is 35x23km. Pan is also in Saturn's A-ring, which makes it a dangerous place to approach (although I assume this was captured during a pass through the Encke Gap?). Let's see... these were taken from ~25000km away... so yeah, that'd have to be within the Encke gap.

      • Re:Render (Score:4, Interesting)

        by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Friday March 10, 2017 @08:03AM (#54011655) Journal

        There are some other perspectives [arstechnica.com] in this. It looks like a snowball that picked up the edge from bumping into the rings.

      • by ZeRu ( 1486391 )

        It's incredibly smooth and uncratered because it's constantly accumulating fine-grained ring material. Think of it like a sand dune in space..

        So, whenever a meteor hits it, it makes the moon lose a good part of its mass because of all the dust that's being sent into space.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The moon is very, very young, like the rest of the ring system. If it were accumulating material it would be cratered.

      • Also, people are generally used to images of the outer planets and their moons being poor quality

        No. I remember the Voyagers pictures [nasa.gov] quite well, taken 40 years ago...

      • There's probably an asteroid buried in the middle of that thing...
    • Why does this picture look like a very basic computer simulation of a lump of rock, and nothing at all like a photo. How was the picture actually taken?

      "NASA's Cassini probe has delivered stunning close-ups of the 35-kilometer-wide icy moon...The latest pictures were obtained as Cassini conducts its final (and riskiest) flybys past Saturn's moons and rings before it blazes into the planet's atmosphere later this year."

      I would say RTFA but in this case it's exactly the same as TFS, so either will do.

  • It looks like a flying saucer that iced over.
  • Sorry to be pedantic, but doesn't it look much more like a ravioli than an empanada or a gyoza?
    • Sorry to be pedantic, but doesn't it look much more like a ravioli than an empanada or a gyoza?

      In any case, it's ethnic food and, whenever the Earth and Pan are properly aligned, it's a foreign thingy over US airspace w/o proper clearance. It's gotta go. :-)

  • Man, those space cabbages get big!

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