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Sci-Tech

Saturn's tiny moon Prometheus is a ring wrecking ball

Saturn has an oddly shaped little moon that enjoys carving arcs out of one of the planet's picturesque rings. An image just released by NASA highlights that behavior.

Prometheus poses with Saturn's carved F ring. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

You could call Saturn's moon Prometheus an oddball if it were actually shaped like a ball. It's not. The satellite, which measures 53 miles (85 kilometers) across, has an oblong irregular body, nothing at all like the elegant sphere shape we normally associate with moons. It hangs around Saturn's F ring, sometimes slicing through the icy particles that make up the ring.

Prometheus' Freddy Krueger-style action is well-known, but NASA highlighted its activity with the release Monday of an image taken by the Cassini spacecraft in mid-March of this year. Prometheus can be seen in the upper right of the picture. Notice the dark cuts on the inside of the ring.

"When it enters the ring, it leaves a gore where its gravitational influence clears out some of the smaller ring particles. Below Prometheus, the dark lanes interior to the F ring's bright core provide examples of previous ring-moon interactions," NASA notes.

Saturn's rings are labeled alphabetically based on the order of their discovery. The F ring is narrow and is located just outside the much wider A ring at a distance of around 87,000 miles from the planet's center.

Cassini took the image from a distance of 286,000 miles away from Saturn. The spacecraft launched in 1997 and reached its destination at Saturn in 2004. It's on an extended mission to study the planet, its rings and many moons.