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Why Saturn’s ring moons’ are different colors and shapes

Saturn’s moons Prometheus, Pandora and Epimetheus can be seen under the planet with the rings in this image from the Cassini spacecraft. New views of the Pan, Dasphnis, Atlas, Pandora and Epimetheus have suggested possible reasons for the odd shapes and colors of these moons.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The bizarre shapes and various colors seen in some of Saturn’s moons can now be explained using data taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft before it plunged to ruin.

These moons are probably coalesced from the planet with the rings and get their color on the ice and volcanoes, or a mysterious red material in the rings, according to a new study.

Saturn not only possesses extraordinary rings, but there are also more than 60 moons. A half a dozen or so of these moons seem to be connected with the giant planet, the main rings, or lodged within those functions or gravity interacting with them, shaping their forms and affecting their composition.

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The ring with men often have bizarre features; for example, Pan and Atlas are in the form of flying saucers . Saturn’s moons can also vary in color of the adjacent rings, and astronomers have wondered why these differences appear.

The relationship between the planet with the rings and moons suggests that the rings’ and moons’ origin and survival are linked, researchers have said. Previous work suggested that the moons coalesced from ring material, or that the rings formed from the disintegration of a moon.

To shed light on the secrets of this ring moons had scientists from NASA’s Cassini probe to perform five close flybys with five of these moons are Pan, Daphnis, Atlas, Pandora and Epimetheus — before the spacecraft ended its mission by diving into Saturn. Using data from six instruments on board the Cassini, the researchers analysed the form, the composition, the structure and the environment of these moons.

“This mission was not the intention,” Bonnie Buratti, lead author of the new research and a planetary astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told Space.com. “Cassini, the intention was to look at Saturn and its rings, and its magnetosphere during the grand final, but we have noticed that it would come close to Saturn a ring of moons, and we claimed we wanted to see. Thus, our findings are here like a bow on the top of the Cassini mission.”

The scientists discovered that the appearance of these ring-moons have hung on to their position with respect to the rings, Pan the reddest and the closest of these moons and Epimetheus either and the farthest out. This suggested that the moons’ appearance depended on two competing factors, the researchers said, the contamination by a red material of the main rings, which could consist of a mix of iron and organic compounds, and the showers of ice particles or water vapor from volcanic plumes of origin on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

The researchers also found that these moons had low densities. This suggested that the natural satellites of the origin of the ring material accreting in dense cores, sometimes collect on the equators of these moons, which would help explain the flying saucer shapes of Pan and Atlas.

“The rings and moons are really the same kind of object — the rings are made of small particles, and these moons are the largest versions of these particles,” Buratti said. “These moons continue to accumulate small particles, explaining the weird skirt-like features around their equators.”

The scientists detailed their findings online March 28 in the journal Science.

  • Photos: Saturn’s Glorious Rings up Close
  • Cassini Death Dive into Saturn Reveals Weird Ring ‘Rain’ And Other Surprises
  • Saturn Moon Enceladus Blasts Rings with Geysers in Stunning Cassini Photos

Original story on Live Science.
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