The Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn for more than 12 years capturing images and performing experiments. It did flybys of Venus, our Moon, and Jupiter for gravity assist en route to Saturn, and once there it has studied numerous moons, discovered seven new ones, dropped a probe onto Titan, and gathered invaluable data. Later this year, it will end its mission and be directed to dive into Saturn so as to avoid contaminating any Saturn’s moons, many of which are among the solar system’s most likely candidates for life off of Earth.

Yesterday, Cassini did a flyby of a tiny little moon called Pan and took some amazing images. First discovered in 1990, Pan was found by studying old Voyager 2 photos searching for a reason for a gap of Saturn’s A ring. It is surmised that as the moon orbits, it either vacuums up material from the ring, or shoots it out. Moon’s that perform this function are called shepherd moons. It is this “vacuumed” material that is believed to had added the remarkable disk around Pan’s equator.

pan moon

Pan in its ring gap. Credit: NASA

About Pan:

Dimensions: 34.4 x 31.4 x 20.8 km
Mean Radius: 14.1 + 1.3 km
Surface Gravity: Varies between .001% and .018% of Earth’s
Time to Orbit Saturn (orbital period): 13 hours, 48 minutes.

Cool fact: Pan’s escape velocity (how fast something has to be going to escape the moon’s gravity) is a little more than 13 miles per hour, which means a good strong jump could put you into orbit!

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Posted by Darren Beyer

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