November 26, 2012
Pac-Man Spotted Floating Around Saturn
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
The space agency said scientists have spotted a second feature shaped like the 1980s video game icon Pac Man in the Saturn system on the moon Tethys. The pattern found appears in the thermal data obtained by Cassini composite infrared spectrometer.
"Finding a second Pac-Man in the Saturn system tells us that the processes creating these Pac-Men are more widespread than previously thought," Carly Howett, the lead author of a paper recently released online in the journal Icarus, said in a statement. "The Saturn system - and even the Jupiter system - could turn out to be a veritable arcade of these characters."
Scientists believe the Pac-Man shape on Tethys occurs because of the way high-energy electrons bombard low latitudes on the side of the moon that faces forward as it orbits around Saturn.
The altered surface does not heat as rapidly in the sunshine or cool down as quickly at night as the rest of the surface, according to NASA.
The space agency said finding another shape of the 1980s gaming icon confirms that high-energy electrons can dramatically alter the surface of any icy moon.
"Studies at infrared wavelengths give us a tremendous amount of information about the processes that shape planets and moons," Mike Flasar, the spectrometer's principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a press release. "A result like this underscores just how powerful these observations are."
Scientists saw the new Pac-Man on Tethys in data obtained on September 14, 2011, where daytime temperatures inside the mouth of Pac-Man were seen to be cooler than their surroundings by 29 degrees Fahrenheit.
The warmest temperature recorded was at negative 300 degrees Fahrenheit, which is actually slightly cooler than the warmest temperature at Mimas, which is where the first Pac-Man shape was discovered in 2010.
"Finding a new Pac-Man demonstrates the diversity of processes at work in the Saturn system," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "Future Cassini observations may reveal other new phenomena that will surprise us and help us better understand the evolution of moons in the Saturn system and beyond."