NASA’s Cassini spacecraft inspected the mini-moons Pan and Daphnis in the A ring; Atlas at the edge of the A ring; Pandora at the edge of the F ring; and Epimetheus, which is bathed in material that fans out from the moon Enceladus. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
New findings have emerged about five tiny moons nestled in and near Saturn’s rings. The closest-ever flybys by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft reveal that the surfaces of these unusual moons are covered with material from the planet’s rings – and from icy particles blasting out of Saturn’s larger moon Enceladus. The work paints a picture of the competing processes shaping these mini-moons.
“The daring, close flybys of these odd little moons let us peer into how they interact with Saturn’s rings,” says Bonnie Buratti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, United States. Buratti led a team of 35 co-authors that published their work in the journal Science on 28 March 2019. “We’re seeing more evidence of how extremely active and dynamic the Saturn ring and moon system is.”
The new research, from data gathered by six of Cassini’s instruments before its mission ended in 2017, is a clear confirmation that dust and ice ...