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NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Spotted Two Tiny Moons in Saturn's Ring

Oct 05, 2016 08:19 AM EDT
Voyager 1 Passing Saturn
Cassini captured Saturn's two tiny moons orbiting near the planet's ring.
(Photo : NASA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Saturn's moon Titan is one of the most popular satellites in the Solar System because of its alleged "right chemistry" for life.. But two of its smaller moons are the ones currently in the spotlight as Cassini managed to capture them in orbit.

The two moons pictured by Cassini are very rarely observed because they tend to "get lost" within the planet's massive rings. In the image, the two moons decided to show up and are visible in their orbit. Saturn moons Pan and Atlas are visible in the photo; Pan is within the Encke Gap, seen on the lower right side of the photo about to overtake Atlas on the upper-left, known to has a slower orbit pace.

All of Saturn's moons follow a distinct orbit path, joining the planet and its rings in unison. Pan, about 17 miles (28 kilometers across) moves in its orbit closer to the planet compared to the 19-mile (30 kilometers) Atlas. Based on Johannes Kepler's planetary motion rule 400 years ago, Pan does orbits faster compared to Atlas.

The moons were visible in the image taken facing the sunlit side of Saturn's ring about 39 degrees on top of the ring plane. The photograph was taken in daylight using Cassini's narrow-angle camera. "The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 3.4 million miles (5.5 million kilometers) from Atlas and at a Sun-Atlas-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 71 degrees. Image scale is 21 miles (33 kilometers) per pixel," a NASA official said in a press release.

During the course of its mission, Cassini managed to capture images of Saturn, its rings and its moons. Aside from the usual occurrence, Cassini also observes some rare events concerning the bodies within the region including Saturn's "bent" rings. Although it looks perplexing at first, according to NASA the bending of Saturn's ring is only an optical illusion. It occurs when Cassini is positioned in such a way that the light coming from the Sun is reflected in a manner that appears to disrupt the continuity of Saturn's massive rings.


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