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Saturn’s Moon Atlas Is Even More Flying Saucery Than Pan

Animation made from images acquired by Cassini on April 12, 2017.

If you thought Pan resembled a UFO, Atlas is even more saucer-shaped! Slightly larger at about 19 miles across, Saturn’s moon Atlas was passed by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on April 12, 2017, coming within about 9,000 miles. The images above are a collection of eight from Cassini’s closest approach. Like its smaller sibling Pan, Atlas has a flattened shape, created by the presence of a large buildup of icy material around its equator.

Atlas orbits Saturn just outside the edge of the A ring, taking about 14 hours to complete a full orbit.

Learn more about Atlas here.

UPDATE: Here’s a color image of Atlas made from raw images acquired by Cassini on April 12 in infrared, green, and UV wavelengths. I’ve adjusted it to bring out some surface detail and (hopefully) closer match actual visible light.

Atlas IR--G-UV 4-12-17

Color image of Atlas from April 12, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/Space Science Institute/Jason Major.


Watch Saturn’s Moons Race Inside the Rings

Saturn's moons Prometheus and Atlas are captured by Cassini in these images from Aug. 23, 2016

Saturn’s moons Prometheus and Atlas are captured by Cassini in these images from Aug. 23, 2016

Round and round they go… the animation above, made from 14 raw images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on August 23, 2016, shows the moons Prometheus and Atlas orbiting Saturn within the Roche Division gap between its A (top right) and F (center) rings. The gravitational tug of Prometheus (92 miles / 148 km long) is strong enough to pull on the fine, smoke-like icy particles of the F ring, creating streamer and “clump” features that follow it along.

The much smaller Atlas (23 miles / 37 km wide) follows a path around Saturn just past the outer edge of the A ring. It was once thought to be a “shepherd moon” of the A ring, but it’s now known that the pull of the more distant Janus and Epimetheus are responsible for that.

Atlas does have its very own ring, though—a very faint (i.e., not visible above) band of material that runs along its orbit named R/2004 S 1, discovered by the Cassini mission in July 2004.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Animation by Jason Major.

Happy 5th Launchiversary SDO!

Five years ago today, at 10:23 a.m. EST on Feb, 11, 2010, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory launched aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, sending the most advanced solar observatory satellite into orbit and giving us an amazing new look at our home star. Since then SDO has been monitoring the Sun on a constant minute-by-minute basis, sending back terabytes of data and capturing 200 million images over 1,826 days in space, 22,300 miles from Earth.

The video above is an homage to SDO from the team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Here’s to five amazing years and hopefully many more ahead! Learn more about SDO and get the most up-to-date images and information here.

Also, watch the 2010 launch of SDO below:

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Ghosts of Worlds Passed

Animation of Saturn's F ring and shepherd moons

Animation of Saturn’s F ring and shepherd moons

Saturn’s F ring is a fascinating structure. Made of fine icy particles — most no larger than the particulates found in cigarette smoke — it orbits Saturn just outside the A ring and is easily perturbed by the gravity of nearby moons and embedded moonlets, which create streamers and clumps that rise up in fanciful shapes.

This brief animation, made from 33 raw images captured by Cassini on December 26 (otherwise known locally as my birthday!) shows the F ring in action as it follows shepherd moons Prometheus and smaller Atlas around Saturn. Some motion is due to the orbits of the rings and moons, and some is due to the spacecraft itself.

You can watch a slower version of the animation below:

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Up and Over the Rings – Atlas and Pandora

Cassini image acquired May 23, 2012 (NASA/JPL/SSI)

Cassini’s at it again! After its last flyby of Titan the spacecraft changed course, heading up and away from Saturn’s equatorial plane at an angle that will allow it to better study the rings and the planet’s polar regions.

This raw image, captured on May 23, shows Cassini’s view as it heads upwards. It shows a view of Saturn’s rings and two shepherd moons, Pandora (foreground) and Atlas.

It’s nice to see some views like this again from Cassini!

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