Saturn's moon Atlas shines between gas giant's rings

Jun 18, 2014 by Elizabeth Howell
Saturn’s moon Atlas peeks out between the rings in this Cassini shot taken Jan. 23, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

See that small pixel? That's an entire moon you're looking at! Peeking between the rings of Saturn is the tiny saucer-shaped moon Atlas, as viewed from the Cassini spacecraft. The image is pretty, but there's also a scientific reason to watch the planet's many moons while moving around the rings.

"Although the sunlight at Saturn's distance is feeble compared to that at the Earth, objects cut off from the Sun within Saturn's shadow cool off considerably," NASA stated.

"Scientists study how the moons around Saturn cool and warm as they enter and leave Saturn's shadow to better understand the of Saturn's moons."

And if you look at Atlas close-up, it looks a little like a flying saucer! The moon is only 20 miles (32 km) across, which is a bit shy of the length of a marathon. The Voyager 1 team spotted the moon in 1980 when the spacecraft zoomed through the system. You can learn more about Saturn's moons here.

Saturn’s moon Atlas. Left image: viewed from the side, at a scale of 0.6 miles (1 km) per pixel. Right image: the mid-southern latitudes, at 820 feet (250 m) per pixel. The images are composite views from the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

Cassini is still in excellent health (it arrived at Saturn in 2004, and has been in space since 1997), and scientists are eagerly getting ready for when Saturn gets to its in 2017. Among the things being looked at is a hurricane at Saturn's north pole.

Explore further: Join in the Cassini name game

Related Stories

Join in the Cassini name game

Apr 11, 2014

As NASA's Cassini mission approaches its 10th anniversary at Saturn, its team members back here on Earth are already looking ahead to an upcoming phase.

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of a Saturn moon

Apr 15, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known ...

Saturn shows off its shadow

Sep 21, 2012

Take a look up at the enormous shadow cast by Saturn onto its own rings in this raw image, acquired by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on September 18, 2012.

NASA image: Saturn's rainbow rings

May 06, 2014

(Phys.org) —This colourful cosmic rainbow portrays a section of Saturn's beautiful rings, four centuries after they were discovered by Galileo Galilei.

Image: The unilluminated side of Saturn's rings

Apr 30, 2014

(Phys.org) —Saturn's rings cast shadows on the planet, but the shadows appear to be inside out! The edge of Saturn's outermost A ring can be seen at the top left corner of the image. Moving towards the ...

Cassini spies the ice-giant planet Uranus

May 01, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured its first-ever image of the pale blue ice-giant planet Uranus in the distance beyond Saturn's rings.

Recommended for you

Total lunar eclipse before dawn on April 4th

7 hours ago

An unusually brief total eclipse of the Moon will be visible before dawn this Saturday, April 4th, from western North America. The eclipse happens on Saturday evening for Australia and East Asia.

Cassini: Return to Rhea

20 hours ago

After a couple of years in high-inclination orbits that limited its ability to encounter Saturn's moons, NASA's Cassini spacecraft returned to Saturn's equatorial plane in March 2015.

Comet dust—planet Mercury's 'invisible paint'

Mar 30, 2015

A team of scientists has a new explanation for the planet Mercury's dark, barely reflective surface. In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers suggest that a steady dusting of carbon from p ...

It's 'full spin ahead' for NASA soil moisture mapper

Mar 30, 2015

The 20-foot (6-meter) "golden lasso" reflector antenna atop NASA's new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory is now ready to wrangle up high-resolution global soil moisture data, following the successful ...

What drives the solar cycle?

Mar 30, 2015

You can be thankful that we bask in the glow of a relatively placid star. Currently about halfway along its 10 billion year career on the Main Sequence, our sun fuses hydrogen into helium in a battle against ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.