News Ticker

Second ‘Pac-Man’ discovered in Saturn system

NASA has discovered a second “Pac-Man” in the Saturn system. “Pac-Man, the Sequel” was recently found on Saturn’s moon Tethys, according to the space agency. The first Pac-Man-shaped feature was spotted on Saturn’s moon Mimas in 2010. The feature appears in the thermal data gathered by the Cassini space telescope’s composite infrared spectrometer. The warmer areas create the Pac-Man shape.

“Finding a second Pac-Man in the Saturn system tells us that the processes creating these Pac-Men are more widespread than previously thought,” said Carly Howett, the lead author of a paper on the finding, in a statement. “The Saturn system – and even the Jupiter system – could turn out to be a veritable arcade of these characters.”

Astronomers theorize that the Pac-Man-shaped feature appears on Tethys because of the way high-energy electrons bombard low latitudes on the side of the moon that faces forward as it orbits around Saturn. This bombardment likely turns the forward-facing side of Tethys into hard-packed ice. The icy surface does not heat as rapidly in the sunshine or cool down as quickly at night as the rest of the moon’s surface. The discovery of a second Pac-Man-shaped feature on one of Saturn’s other moons indicates that high-energy electrons can drastically alter the surface of an icy moon. Tethys is also being bombarded by icy particles from Enceladus’ plumes. The video-gamed-shaped heat signature reveals that surface alteration is occurring faster than its recoating by plume particles.

“Studies at infrared wavelengths give us a tremendous amount of information about the processes that shape planets and moons,” said Mike Flasar, the spectrometer’s principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in a statement. “A result like this underscores just how powerful these observations are.”

Astronomers discovered the second Pac-Man in data gathered by Cassini on September 14, 2011. Daytime temperatures inside the mouth of Pac-Man were 29 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than their surroundings on that date. The second Pac-Man-shaped feature can also be seen in visible-light images of the Tethys’ surface.

“Finding a new Pac-Man demonstrates the diversity of processes at work in the Saturn system,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement. “Future Cassini observations may reveal other new phenomena that will surprise us and help us better understand the evolution of moons in the Saturn system and beyond.”

Pac-Man was released in the U.S. in October 1980. Pac-Man designer Toru Iwatani was eating a pizza when he came up with the design of the iconic Pac-Man character. Despite advancements in video game technology, Pac-Man is still considered one of the most popular video games in history.

The discovery was recently described online in the journal Icarus.