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Saturn’s rings paint some of its moons shades of blue and red

Five ring-dwelling objects are different colors, depending on their distance from the planet

ONE AND THE SAME A new study of Saturn’s inner moons suggests they and the planet’s innermost rings (illustrated with the Cassini spacecraft) formed from the same destructive event.


Saturn’s rings are painting its innermost moons. Data from NASA’s now-defunct Cassini spacecraft show that five odd-shaped moons embedded in Saturn’s rings are different colors, and that the hues come from the rings themselves, researchers report. That observation could help scientists figure out how the moons were born.

“The ring moons and the rings themselves are kind of one and the same,” says planetary scientist Bonnie Buratti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “For as long as the moons have existed, they’ve been accreting particles from the rings.”

Saturn has more than 60 moons, but those nearest to the planet interact closely with its main band of rings. Between December 2016 and April 2017, Cassini passed close to five of these ring-dwelling moons: ravioli-shaped Pan and Atlas (SN Online: 3/10/17), ring-sculpting Daphnis and Pandora (SN: 9/2/17, p. 16) and potato-shaped Epimetheus. The flybys brought Cassini between two and 10 times closer to the moons than it had ever been, before the spacecraft deliberately crashed into Saturn in September 2017 (SN Online: 9/15/17). Examining those close-ups, Buratti and her colleagues noticed that the moons’ colors vary depending on the objects’ distances from Saturn. And the moon hues are similar to the colors of the rings that the objects are closest to, the team reports online March 27 in Science.

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