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PANdemonium! Saturn's Moon Pan and Rings Captured by Cassini Spacecraft

Jul 07, 2016 02:39 AM EDT
Cassini Probe Sends Pictures Of Saturn
The Cassini spacecraft captured a fascinating photo of Saturn's moon Pan in its ring gap where it performs its orbit around the host planet.
(Photo : NASA/Getty Images)

Saturn's moons greatly influence their host planet's rings. Pan, one of Saturn's moon also largely affect the ring that surrounds the planet as what has been captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. It orbits on its own gap within the planet's ring.

In the photo released by NASA, there was a clear gap on the ring that also serves as Pan's orbit. Experts from the agency said that aside from the gap, ringlets and vertical waves moving up and down could also appear on the ring plane due to gravity and moon activities. The one of Saturn's innermost moon is visible orbiting its gap on the Saturn's ring, according to a report. 

The moon Pan is 17 miles across and maintains a gap called Encke Gap where it normally orbits. This also helps create narrow ringlets that appear on the gap. From the image, two ringlets are visible.

"Many moons, Pan included, create waves at distant points in Saturn's rings where ring particles and the moons have orbital resonances. Many such waves are visible here as narrow groupings of brighter and darker bands. Studying these waves can provide information on local ring conditions," a NASA official said in a press release.

The ability to influence and disturb Saturn's ring makes Pan an interesting object for scientists and astronomers. The view is positioned towards the unilluminated side of the ring at 22 degrees below the ring plane. The Cassini spacecraft captured the photo in April this year and was taken in visible light at a distance of approximately 232,000 miles from Saturn.

Some reports say the Pan, Atlas, another Saturn moon and Saturn's ring might have been created at the same time. This is a logical explanation as to how the moons and the rings co-exist this way.

"We think the only way these moons could have reached the sizes they are now, in the ring environment as we now know it to be, was to start off with a massive core to which the smaller, more porous ring particles could easily become bound," Carolyn Porco from ESA said in an interview with Daily Mail. This might explain the orchestrated movement of Pan in its own orbit in a clear gap on Saturn's ring.

The Cassini mission continues to provide information about Saturn and its moons. The mission is a collaborative work between NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency.


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