Scientists spot features on Saturn moon resembling Pac-Man icon

27 Nov 2012

Pac-Man features detected by scientists firstly in 2010 on Saturn's Mimas moon (left) and now on the Tethys moon. Image via NASA

Astronomers using images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn have revealed an infrared heat pattern on the icy moon Tethys that is shaped like the famous video-game icon Pac-Man.

It’s the second time astronomers have captured warmer features on a Saturn moon in the shape of the icon from the 1980s video game Pac-Man.

In 2010, scientists observed a pattern on the Saturn moon Mimas. Now, using thermal data gleaned by the Cassini mission’s infrared spectrometer, scientists have discovered a second Pac-Man shape on the Saturn moon Tethys.

According to NASA, the Pac-Man thermal shapes happen as a result of high-energy electrons that bombard low altitudes on the side of the moon that faces forward as it orbits Saturn.

The space agency said high-energy electrons can dramatically alter the surface of an icy moon.

Carly Howett, the lead author of a paper on the scientists’ findings, which was published in the online journal Icarus, said the Saturn system could turn out to be a “veritable arcade” of Pac-Men characters.

“Finding a second Pac-Man in the Saturn system tells us that the processes creating these Pac-Men are more widespread than previously thought,” she said.

Mike Flasar, the spectrometer’s principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, added how studies at infrared wavelengths can give a wealth of information about the processes that shape planets and moons.

The scientists observed the new ‘Pac-Man’ on Tethys based on data obtained from the Cassini mission in September 2011.

The Cassini spacecraft launched in October 1997 with the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe. It landed on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, in January 2005. The Cassini Solstice mission started in 2010 and will run until 2017.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic