Moons of Saturn 'painting' each other

Oct. 13, 2010 at 9:57 PM
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HOUSTON, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say five of Saturn's moons are in a cosmic game of paintball, pummeling each other with particles that leave colorful patches on their surfaces.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft recently spotted reddish and blue splashes on the icy surfaces of the ringed planet's inner moons of Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione and Rhea, reported Wednesday.

Scientists say the colors show how material travels between these moons orbiting Saturn and shows "space weathering" can affect bodies in our solar system.

Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston and his colleagues used images taken by Cassini through visible-light, ultraviolet and infrared filters from 2004 to 2009 to produce new, high-resolution global color maps of the five Saturn moons.

"The beauty of it all is how the satellites behave as a family, recording similar processes and events on their surfaces, each in its own unique way," Schenk said. "I don't think anyone expected that electrons would leave such obvious fingerprints on planetary surfaces, but we see it on several moons, including Mimas, which was once thought to be rather bland."

The main player in the particle paint war appears to be icy Enceladus, researchers said, where mysterious ice geysers blast from the moon's south polar region

Particles from these icy jets form most of one of Saturn's rings and also appear to splatter Tethys, Dione and Rhea, the researchers say.

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