Saturn’s moon Pan looks like lumpy flying saucer in closest-ever photos (VIDEO, IMAGES)
Cassini scientist Carolyn Porco took to Twitter to share some of the extraordinary new images snapped by the spacecraft. She also revealed some of the comparisons people were making about the tiny moon, which has a diameter of just 17 miles (28km).
"After 13 years, we've come to expect extreme reactions to our images. But hunger? Ravioli, tortellini, empanada, pierogi, hamburger, brie?” Porco said.
After 13 yrs, we've come to expect extreme reactions to our images. But hunger? Ravioli, tortellini, empanada, pierogi, hamburger, brie?— Carolyn Porco (@carolynporco) March 9, 2017
The planetary scientist also answered questions about Pan’s unusual shape. "For those who asked: Pan orbits in a ring gap of its own making. Early on & to some degree even now, ring material falls on its equator," she tweeted.
“I, too, thought when I 1st saw these pics, they must be an artist’s depiction & not real. They are real! Science is better than fiction.”
Nearing its end, Cassini delights again. Here is 35-km Pan in mind-blowing detail with its unmistakable accretionary equatorial bulge. pic.twitter.com/RdgqnH4rkJ— Carolyn Porco (@carolynporco) March 9, 2017
The unusual shaped moon inspired numerous interesting responses on Twitter with people describing it as a space clam, comparing it to various types of pasta and suggesting that it's a derelict spaceship.
Cassini photographed Pan during a flyby on March 7 and NASA released the pictures on Thursday, saying: "These images are the closest images ever taken of Pan and will help to characterize its shape and geology."
The flyby had a close-approach distance of 24,572km (15,268 miles).
The tiny moon orbits Saturn within a gap between the rings of dust and debris encircling the planet.
Cassini has been exploring Saturn and its moons since it was launched in 1997. It is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.
Among its discoveries are a global ocean on the planet’s sixth largest moon, Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on its largest moon, Titan. The mission ends later this year when the spacecraft will burn up in Saturn's atmosphere.