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Science File

Close-Up of Saturn Moon Shows All the Blemishes

The Cassini spacecraft sends back images indicating Hyperion is one of a kind.

October 01, 2005|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

The closest view yet of Saturn's moon Hyperion reveals a strange spongy surface unlike that of any other moon in the solar system, NASA officials said Friday.

A similar close-up of the moon Tethys revealed an icy land of steep cliffs and craters heavily bombarded by space debris.

The picture of Tethys was taken last Saturday as the Cassini spacecraft swept within 930 miles of its surface.

The image of Hyperion was captured Monday from a distance of 310 miles.

Hyperion is slightly reddish in normal light, but there are variations in color across the surface that probably represent differences in material composition.

Researchers are particularly eager to learn the identity of the dark material that fills many craters on this moon. Features suggest it may be only tens of yards thick, with a brighter material underneath.

Cassini's pictures included the south pole of Tethys, an area not previously seen. A giant rift called Ithaca Chasma cuts across the moon. It has been heavily cratered, indicating the event that caused it happened long ago.

A prominent peaked crater named Telemachus is also badly eroded from meteor impacts. Many of the craters that appear to be recent have unusually bright floors, in contrast to the dark floors of craters on Hyperion.

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