NASA reveals INCREDIBLE new photos of Saturn’s mini-moons

Adorned with thousands of beautiful ringlets, Saturn is justifiably known as the solar system’s jewel. Nestled between these rings is a collection of mini-moons, first discovered by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. And today, for the first time, NASA has released incredibly detailed images of Saturn’s mysterious mini-moons.

Pan, Daphnis, Atlas, Pandora and Epimetheus each measure between five to 72 miles (eight and 116 kms) across.

The surfaces of these unusual moons are covered with material from the Saturn’s rings and from icy particles blasting out of the planet’s larger moon Enceladus.

Scientists also found the moon surfaces to be highly porous, further confirming that they were formed in multiple stages as ring material settled onto denser cores that might be remnants of a larger object that broke apart.

The porosity also helps explain their unusual shape – rather than being spherical, they are knobbly and blobby, with material stuck around their equators.

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Cassini spent 13 years in an orbit around Saturn and its final year of operation, it inserted itself between the rings, beaming data back to Earth until it went dark on September 13, 2017, 20 years after its launch.

Dr Bonnie Buratti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said: ”The daring, close flybys of these odd little moons let us peer into how they interact with Saturn’s rings.

“We are seeing more evidence of how extremely active and dynamic the Saturn ring and moon system is.”

Some 4,000 scientific articles have been published about Cassini’s findings, and the well of knowledge is nowhere near dry.

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“I want to work for at least another decade on this stuff,” Dr Buratti added.

The study reinforces the dominant theory Saturn’s rings and moons stem from the same celestial body, which shattered as a result of some kind of collision.

“The largest fragments became the core of these ring moons,” explained Dr Buratti, who has worked at NASA for 33 years.

“What happened was the moons continued to accumulate particles from the rings—this is what we saw close up, the accumulation of the ring material onto the moon.”

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Astronomers are now getting to grips with the age of Saturn’s rings.

A study published in January, based on Cassini data, concluded 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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