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Cassini Spacecraft Captures Stunning Close-Ups Of Saturn’s ‘Flying Saucer Moon’ Atlas

First Posted: Apr 15, 2017 06:50 AM EDT

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has very recently captured the closest images of Saturn’s peculiar moon Atlas that looks like a flying saucer. A broad equatorial ridge and bulged middle give a UFO-like appearance to this moon. Cassini took the new photos during a flyby that put the mission within just 7,000 miles of the UFO-like moon at closest approach.

"These images are the closest ever taken of Atlas and will help to characterize its shape and geology," NASA reported. "Atlas (19 miles across) orbits Saturn just outside the A ring—the outermost of the gaseous giant’s bright, main rings."

Saturn definitely has some really interesting moons -- in its 60-plus repertoire of natural satellites -- the bizarreness of which has been revealed by the Cassini mission during its nearly 13 years in the Saturn system. Among the other moons, Pan looks like a ravioli, Iapetus resembles a walnut and Mimas has quite a bit of similarity to Star Wars’ Death Star. Incidentally, Atlas is one of the smallest moons of Saturn.

According to NASA’s Solar System Exploration page, Saturn’s moons were originally named for Greco-Roman Titans and their descendants. However, as more moons started getting discovered, scientists began to include names from more mythologies, including Norse, Inuit and Gallic stories. Atlas was detected in 1980 by R. Terrile and the Voyager 1 team, with the help of photographs taken during the probe’s encounter with Saturn.

The Cassini spacecraft is a $3.2 billion mission launched jointly by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency. The probe, which took off from Earth in 1997, arrived at the Saturn system in July 2004. Now, Cassini will start on the grand finale of its mission -- following which the spacecraft will dive into Saturn’s thick atmosphere, signaling the end of the probe.

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