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The Saturn “ravioli” Moon

The first close-up look at the Pan Cassini satellite, whose shape resembles a flying saucer, a nut, or a filled pasta. There is a small “ravioli steering wheel” in orbit within the rings of Saturn headband, and a NASA probe has just retracted with unprecedented precision. It is actually a natural satellite, named Pan; March 7, the Cassini spacecraft has photographed close its bizarre features, even compared to a flying saucer or a hazelnut.

Named after the greek god of the woods, Pan has a diameter of just over 34 km and is a so-called “shepherding satellite”. Orbit in a gap inside the ring “A” of Saturn, the icy particles disk farther from the planet. In the course of its orbit, Pan keep that gate open, absorbing some debris like a vacuum cleaner and expelling others. In fact it was precisely the existence of a streak-free space debris that led astronomers to hypothesize the existence of Pan, in the mid-eighties of the last century. The little moon, however, was actually discovered only in 1990, when a team led by Mark Showalter roused him in images taken by the Voyager 2 probe.

Today the passage of Cassini in the Saturn system has allowed astronomers to see Pan closely. The shaped ravioli is due to what is termed an equatorial accretion disk: a thin ring of particles coming from the ring of Saturn that accumulate around the “life” of the satellite attracted by its gravity while the small intestine.

It is a huge step forward compared to the vague dots that tried in 1990 on the Voyager photos !. It is very gratifying to be able to see up close Pan, at last! In a study published in 2007 in Science it is assumed that the accretion disk has been formed long ago, before the satellite “cleans up” the material through the gap inside the ring. The shape comes right from the dust that collects Pan ring of Saturn. The rings are very thin compared to the size of Pan, then the dust settles around its equator. Also another small moon of Saturn, Atlas, has a similar form for the same reasons.



To open the video click on the image, good view from your Alessandro Brizzi.