Tech — July 1, 2017 at 4:45 pm

What even is this weird little moon ?


What are you, little moon?

Saturn’s moon Pan is a weird one.

The little moon, which has been compared to a ravioli, President Donald Trump and a UFO, seems to have a rocky ridge growing out of its middle section.

That ridge — which is prominently seen in new photos taken by the Cassini spacecraft — also gives the moon a distinct Saturn-like look, almost as if Pan is trying to emulate the large planet it orbits.

It’s pretty cute when you think about it.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Another view of Pan.

Cassini took the raw images of Pan on March 7, and while they haven’t been cleaned up yet, the moon’s distinctive shape is still obvious.

Pan’s ridge, which looks like it spans the entire circumference of the 8.8-mile-wide moon, was formed by the strange interplay of gravity in Pan’s part of space. (The ridge is technically known as an accretionary equatorial bulge.)

Nearing its end, Cassini delights again. Here is 35-km Pan in mind-blowing detail with its unmistakable accretionary equatorial bulge.

— Carolyn Porco (@carolynporco) March 9, 2017

A study published in 2007 suggests that the ridge formed from particles from Saturn’s rings that have fallen onto the surface of Pan and gathered around its equator. Another Saturnian moon, Atlas, also has a similar ridge observed by Cassini.

When that new image of the moon Pan reminds you of Trump, because it’s 2017 and your brain is broken

— Bob Al-Greene (@BobAlGreene) March 9, 2017

It’s possible that there is still material from the planet’s distinctive rings falling onto Pan’s surface today, according to Cassini imaging lead Carolyn Porco.

For those who asked: Pan orbits in a ring gap of its own making. Early on & to some degree even now, ring material falls on its equator

— Carolyn Porco (@carolynporco) March 9, 2017

Cassini is nearing the end of its more than 10-year mission to explore Saturn and many of its 53 known moons.

The spacecraft has been exploring the planetary system since its arrival there in 2004, and it should continue its mission until September when it will make a planned crash into Saturn’s atmosphere, burning up in the process.

Until then, Cassini will keep beaming back amazing new images of the world and its many moons, revealing a new side to our solar system.

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