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Pac-Man Spotted on Saturn's Moon Tethys

Nov 27, 2012 02:35 AM EST
NASA's Cassini
Scientists with NASA's Cassini mission have spotted two features shaped like the 1980s video game icon "Pac-Man" on moons of Saturn. One was observed on the moon Mimas in 2010 and the latest was observed on the moon Tethys.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/SWRI)

Scientists have found a Pac-Man-shaped feature on Saturn's Tethys, similar to the one discovered on the planet's other moon Mimas in 2010.

NASA's Cassini mission spotted the second Pac-Man, shaped like the popular 1980s video game of the same name.

"Finding a second Pac-Man in the Saturn system tells us that the processes creating these Pac-Men are more widespread than previously thought," Carly Howett, the lead author of a paper, said in a statement from NASA.

"The Saturn system - and even the Jupiter system - could turn out to be a veritable arcade of these characters."

Scientists noticed that the Pac-Man appears in a thermal shape on Saturn's moon. They believe that the occurrence of the Pac-Man thermal shape is because the "high-energy electrons bombard low latitudes on the moon's side which faces forward as it orbits around Saturn." This turns a part of the moon's surface into hard-packed ice.

As a result, the hard-packed ice experiences different temperatures as compared to the rest of the surface. The altered surface might not be able to heat or cool down rapidly. This suggests that high-energy electrons can alter the surface of the icy moon, scientists said.

They discovered the new Pac-Man in data obtained last year, where the daytime temperature inside Pac-Man's mouth was found to be cooler than the surrounding geography by 29 degrees Fahrenheit (15 kelvins).

The warmest temperature recorded on Tethys was minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit (90 kelvins), which is slightly cooler than the warmest temperature recorded on Saturn's moon Mimas - minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Finding a new Pac-Man demonstrates the diversity of processes at work in the Saturn system," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"Future Cassini observations may reveal other new phenomena that will surprise us and help us better understand the evolution of moons in the Saturn system and beyond," she added.

The findings of the study are published in the recently released online journal Icarus.

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