BEACON TRANSCRIPT – On January 16th, 2017, NASA sent a spacecraft near the outer edges of Saturn’s rings and succeeded in catching on camera the image of a small moon orbiting inside. This is the closest view of the small moon obtained so far.
The spacecraft Cassini photographed the small moon, called Daphnis, orbiting in a gap in Saturn’s massive rings. Scientists observed that the object was producing waves inside the planet’s rings.
Cassini snapped the photo 17,000 miles away from Daphnis. However, NASA declared this to be the closest snap ever taken of the celestial body. They also explained how the production of the waves happened. The waves are produced by the gravity of the small moon and they raise towards the edges of the gap both in horizontal and vertical directions.
This was not the first time when Cassini caught a picture of Daphnis. In 2009, it intercepted the moon from a different angle. However, this latest photo is the clearest and scientists can extract information by analyzing the finer details in the image.
One of the details that are to be seen is a small trail following Daphnis on its orbit. NASA explains that the formation is a gathering of material from Saturn’s rings that merged into a little tail staying close behind the small moon. Moreover, scientists are now able to establish the dimensions of the object. The small moon is only 5 miles wide (this means 8 kilometers), yet it can be analyzed thanks to the Cassini snapshot.
By looking at other particularities of the moon, Daphnis seems to be part of the Saturn family. It appears to be similar to other small ring moons of Saturn, such as Atlas or Pan. What they all have in common is a small ridge around the equator covered by a smooth crust on the surface. The covering appears to be formed by fine particles from the rings.
The Cassini spacecraft is nearing the end of its mission. For almost ten years, Cassini went in exploration of Saturn and its 53 known moons. It launched from Earth in 1997 and is scheduled to crash into Saturn’s atmosphere this year in September.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons