Two years ago as the Cassini probe made its daring final plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn, it flew past for a closer look at a few of the gas giant’s inner moons. Now a NASA team has analyzed the data and uncovered some intriguing new details about these tiny worlds, including how they’re busily scooping up material from Saturn’s rings and growing into weird shapes.
Between December 2016 and April 2017, Cassini used six instruments to examine the shape, structure and composition of five of Saturn’s innermost moons, Pan Daphnis, Atlas, Pandora and Epimetheus. These moons all orbit within or very near to the planet’s iconic rings, so it’s no surprise that they interact with the dusty disks.
“The daring, close flybys of these odd little moons let us peer into how they interact with Saturn’s rings,” says Bonnie Buratti, lead author of the study. “We’re seeing more evidence of how extremely active and dynamic the Saturn ring and moon system is.”