Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A New Photo of the Death-Star Moon

Just in time to anticipate the success of the Star Wars film "Rogue One", NASA released a new photo of Mimas, the moon of Saturn's that resembles the "Death Star."
Mimas, an icy world about 250 miles in diameter, has a giant crater on it which is 86 miles across. That's a single impact feature that is one third the diameter of the world that it’s on!!  Astronomers speculate that if the chunk that hit Mimas, exploded, and dug out that crater had been a little bit bigger it might well have shattered that moon.  Then Saturn might have had another ring system around it.
The crater has been named “Herschel” after the astronomer (and musician) who discovered Mimas.  In its center is a mountain that towers almost as high as Mount Everest on Earth.  It’s that central peak that helps our mind’s eye see Mimas’ resemblance to the evil superweapon in the Star Wars series.
The photo was taken in October by the Cassini mission, which has been exploring Saturn, its rings, and its moons since July 2004.  Its spectacular images find their way into every course I teach and every tourist tour of the solar system I guide in my public lectures.

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