Ever wonder what happened to Pac-Man? Turns out, he and the missus may have retired to Saturn. OK, not really. A new image of Saturn’s moon Tethys shows the old video game favourite, and a second Saturn moon, Mimas, shows the odd pattern too.
Cassini’s composite infrared spectrometer captured the surface temperature information that makes the pattern on the two moons, seen below. The warmer areas are yellow and red, and cooler areas blue and purple. They found the weird pattern on Mimas in 2010, and released the image of Tethys showing the same pattern on Tuesday, November 26, 2012.
Since they found the pattern in temperature on two moons, the researchers think the same effect is causing the pattern on both. As the moons orbit around Saturn, they sweep through high energy electrons, which pack the moons’ surface ice down harder. The hard packed ice does not heat up or cool down as quickly as softly packed ice, so it stays cooler when in the sun.
The Pac-Man on Tethys has its mouth closed more than Mimas’s wide-open chomp because it is hit by icy particles streaming off of Saturn’s other moon, Enceladus, which cover up the packed ice with more softly-packed, fluffy particles.
“Finding a new Pac-Man demonstrates the diversity of processes at work in the Saturn system,” Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a press release from NASA. “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.”
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