NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 26 Feb 2023: Saturn's strange moon Iapetus | Tech News

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 26 Feb 2023: Saturn's strange moon Iapetus

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day is a view of Saturn's strange moon Iapetus which looks like a walnut! NASA explains why.

| Updated on: Feb 26 2023, 13:57 IST
Best NASA Astronomy Pictures of the week: Double Galaxy Cluster, Comet ZTF and more
Saturn moon Iapetus
1/5 Double Star Cluster (Feb 20) - It is a 100-million-year-old globular star cluster located 160,000 light-years away in the constellation Dorado. What’s unusual about this star cluster is its size and shape is reminiscent of the other ancient star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. However, this double star cluster is not present in our galaxy and belongs in the Large Magellanic Cloud. (NASA/ESA/Hubble/Paul Goudfrooij(STScI))
Saturn moon Iapetus
2/5 Comet ZTF (Feb 21) - It is a mesmerizing picture of Comet ZTF streaking across the skies over Yosemite Falls located in the Sierra Nevada region of California. According to NASA, this comet was discovered by astronomers using the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility in 2022 in March last year. (NASA/Tara Mostofi)
Saturn moon Iapetus
3/5 Rising Solar Activity (Feb 22) - This picture is a snapshot of the rising activity on the surface of the Sun. This image was captured two weeks ago in a single colour of light known as Hydrogen Alpha. Solar prominences can be observed hurling out from the surface while the Sun’s edges are brighter due to increased absorption of relatively cool solar gas. (NASA/Mehmet Ergun)
Saturn moon Iapetus
4/5 Spiral Galaxy Arp 78 (Feb 23) - A peculiar spiral galaxy called Arp 78 can be seen in this image. It is an enormous galaxy which spans nearly 200,000 light-years across and exists almost 100 million light-years away in the constellation Aries. Arp 78 is also known as NGC 772. Alongside Arp 78, another faint galaxy can be seen, which is NGC 770.  (NASA/Josep Drudis)
Saturn moon Iapetus
5/5 Headphone Nebula Jones-Emberson 1 (Feb 24) - A stellar nebula known as Jones-Emberson 1 also called as the Headphone Nebula owing to its peculiar headphone-like shape. The Headphone Nebula is located about 1600 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Lynx. (NASA/Serge Brunier/Jean-Francois Bax/David Vernet/ C2PU/OCA)
Saturn moon Iapetus
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Iapetus is the third largest moon of Saturn which has a walnut-like surface. (NASA, ESA)

Saturn has a total of 83 moons, ranging in size from larger than the planet Mercury – the giant moon Titan – to as small as a sports arena. Among these, the third largest moon of Saturn is Iapetus which has a mean radius of around 457 miles (736 kilometres) and a density only 1.2 times that of liquid water. But there is something strange regarding its surface! In the latest image shared by NASA as the Astronomy Picture of the Day 26 February, this moon looks like a walnut. The image was captured by the Cassini spacecraft, which was orbiting Saturn at the time of its flyby of Iapetus in late 2004.

NASA said while sharing the photo, “a strange ridge that circles Saturn's moon Iapetus's equator, visible near the bottom of the featured image, makes it appear similar to a popular edible nut.” However, despite several hypotheses, the cause of the ridge on Iapetus remains unknown. Proposed explanations range from the upwelling of ice from beneath the surface, to a collision with a ring system, or even to remnants of the moon's formation over 100 million years ago.

Another strange fact is that around half of the Iapetus moon is so dark that it can nearly disappear when viewed from Earth, while the rest of the part is quite bright. “Observations show that the degree of darkness of the terrain is strangely uniform, as if a dark coating was somehow recently applied to an ancient and highly cratered surface,” NASA said. It further said that Iapetus has several significant impact basins, including a prominent 400-kilometer wide crater that is visible near the centre of the image. The crater is surrounded by steep cliffs that descend abruptly to the crater floor.

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Saturn used to be the planet with the most moons in the solar system. But recently, with the latest findings of dozens of new moons, the crown has shifted to Jupiter with 92 moons against Saturn's 83 moons.

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First Published Date: 26 Feb, 13:56 IST