Daphnis is one of 53 named moons discovered around Saturn and represents a group of satellites known as ring moons. These tiny moons cruise close to Saturn’s rings and can even disturb them. Take a look at this image captured by Cassini last month.
Daphnis is only 5 miles across which means its gravity is fairly weak. But it’s still strong enough to tug on Saturn’s A ring as it floats through the Keeler Gap (a 26-mile gap in the A Ring).
The gravitational tug from the irregular-shaped moon pulls on the tiny particles making up the A ring, creating the wave-like feature in its wake. These ripples affect the horizontal and vertical plane. An image captured in 2009 show vertical shadows as Daphnis tugs on the ring particles.
Analysis of the shadows shows vertical structures measuring between one-third to one mile high.
Zooming in on last month’s image shows a wispy tendril of ring material that looks like it was ripped free of the A ring.
Did You Know: The first moon discovered around Saturn was Titan in 1655 by Christiaan Huygens. 350 years later and moon discoveries are still happening. Daphnis was only discovered after the Cassini-Huygens probe made it to Saturn and was first seen by the Cassini team on May 1, 2005. There are even hints of a new moon forming from images captured in 2013. Cassini’s grand finale should tell scientists if this is a new moon or not.
What’s Cassini doing today?
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is still in the midst of 20 ring-grazing orbits. Each orbit takes the spacecraft just past the outer edge of the main ring system and is setting the spacecraft up for its Grand Finale. On April 26, a series of harrowing plunges between the rings and Saturn begins.
Who knows what discoveries await the Cassini team as they gear up to capture the closest views ever of Saturn and its majestic rings.
“How fitting it is that we should go out with the best views of Saturn’s rings we’ve ever collected,” says Cassini Imaging Team Lead Carolyn Porco.
Image credits: NASA