NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has shared images of Saturn’s diminutive moon Pan, which resembles a piece of ravioli.
C/NET reports that Pan is only 17 miles across and shaped with a rounded center surrounded by a more flattened ring of material around its equator, giving it the appearance of a pasta pillow or a flying saucer.
Cassini imaging chief Carolyn Porco shared photos of Pan on Twitter.
“For those who asked: Pan orbits in a ring gap of its own making. Early on & to some degree even now, ring material falls on its equator,” Porco said in a tweet.
Online viewers commented on what they thought the moon looks like, to which Porco responded: “After 13 yrs, we’ve come to expect extreme reactions to our images. But hunger? Ravioli, tortellini, empanada, pierogi, hamburger, brie?”
Cassini captured the images of Pan on March 7 and NASA published the images on March 9, noting that the photos are the closest images ever taken of the tiny moon. The up-close look may help astronomers determine the nature of Pan’s geology and the processes that led to its unique shape.
Pan was first discovered in 1990 when astronomers scrutinized photos taken during NASA’s Voyager mission.
Pan’s interaction with Saturn’s rings creates a space in the rings known as the Encke Gap. The noticeable gap in Saturn’s A ring is created by Pan’s gravity, which pushes most stray particles back into their neighboring ring tracks.
Cassini launched in 1997 and has been collecting a wealth of data on Saturn and its rings and moons. Later this year, the Cassini mission will end when the probe dives into Saturn’s atmosphere.