Scientists with NASA's Cassini mission have spotted two features shaped like the 1980s video game icon "Pac-Man" on moons of Saturn. One was observed on the moon Mimas in 2010 and the latest was observed on the moon Tethys (Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/SWRI)
For most people Pac-Man conjures up an old video game and arcade joysticks. For some, however, Pac-Man is an astronomical phenomenon. For the second time ever, scientists have now identified a 'Pac-Man' visual in space on Saturn's moon Tethys.
The visual is a thermal image of Tethys, and a look at it shows that the surface temperature's distribution resembles Pac-Man. The first Pac-Man in space observed was a thermal image of another Saturn moon, Mimas, back in 2010.
"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 lead author of the study Carly Howett. "The Saturn system -- and even the Jupiter system -- could turn out to be a veritable arcade of these characters."
The scientists involved in the discovery were associated with NASA's Cassini mission. The Cassini mission launched in 1997 to study the Saturn system as well as nearby Jupiter.
The Pac-Man thermal distribution gives scientists an insight into the structural makeup of icy moons. According to the study, the Pac-Man thermal distribution is caused by the fact that electrons bombard the forward face of the moon (towards Saturn) at low latitudes. This causes the surface of the moon to turn into hard ice, and take longer to heat up and cool down. The hard ice usually ends up being a different temperature than the surrounding geography.
"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 Greenbelt, Md. "A result like this underscores just how powerful these observations are."
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Who knows what arcade characters we'll see in space next - Donkey Kong anyone?