Adorned with thousands of beautiful curls, Saturn is rightly known as the jewel of the solar system. Nestled between these rings, a collection of mini-moons, first discovered by NASA's Cassini satellite. And today, for the first time, NASA has released unprecedented detailed images of Saturn's mysterious mini-moons.
Pan, Daphnis, Atlas, Pandora and Epimetheus each measure between 8 and 116 km.
The surface of these unusual moons is covered with materials from Saturn's rings and icy particles springing from Enceladus' largest moon.
Scientists have also found that lunar surfaces are very porous, confirming that they have formed in several stages, with the ring material depositing on denser nuclei that may be the remains of a larger object. who broke up.
Porosity is thought to explain their unusual shape. Rather than being spherical, they are gnarled and bluish, with material glued around their equators.
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Cassini spent 13 years in orbit around Saturn and during its last year of operation. It s' inserted between the rings, sending data back to Earth until the dark of September 13, 2017, 20 years after its launch.
Bonnie Buratti, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, "The daring, close-up flights of these strange little moons allow us to see how they interact with the rings of Saturn.
"We are seeing more and more evidence of the extreme activity and dynamism of the Saturn ring and moon system."
Some 4,000 scientific articles have been published on Cassini's discoveries, and the well of knowledge is far from dry.
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"I want to work for at least another decade on this topic," added Dr. Buratti.
The study reinforces the dominant theory The rings and moons of Saturn come from the same celestial body, which shattered as a result of some kind of collision.
"The biggest fragments have become the heart of these moons," says Dr. Buratti, who has been with NASA for 33 years.
"What happened is that the moons continued to accumulate particles in the rings – that's what we saw up close, the accumulation of the material of the Ring on the moon. "
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Astronomers are now beginning to adjust to the age of the rings of Saturn.
A study published in January, based on Cassini data, found that they were relatively young, between 100 million and one billion years old.
However, other models and methods suggest a different answer.
"Science is never cut and dried – you never have your final answer," De Buratti said.
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