Astronomy Picture of the Day – Saturn’s Moon Pan from Cassini

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2017 March 13

Saturn’s Moon Pan from Cassini
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Space Science Institute

 

Explanation: Why does Saturn’s moon Pan look so odd? Images taken last week from the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn have resolved the moon in unprecedented detail. The surprising images reveal a moon that looks something like a walnut with a slab through its middle. Other visible features on Pan include rolling terrain, long ridges, and a few craters. Spanning 30-kilometer across, Pan orbits inside the 300-kilometer wide Encke Gap of Saturn’s expansive A-ring, a gap known since the late 1800s. Next month, Cassini will be directed to pass near Saturn’s massive moon Titan so it can be pulled into a final series of orbits that will take it, on occasion, completely inside Saturn’s rings and prepare it to dive into Saturn’s atmosphere.

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