Mysterious Pac Man Shaped Temperatures on Saturn moon Mimas

By | March 30, 2010

This figure illustrates the unexpected and bizarre pattern of daytime temperatures found on Saturn’s small inner moon Mimas (396 kilometers, or 246 miles, in diameter). The data were obtained by the composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS) on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during the spacecraft’s closest-ever look at Mimas on Feb. 13, 2010.

In the annotated version, the upper left image shows the expected distribution of temperatures. The white sun symbol shows the point where the sun is directly overhead, which is at midday close to the equator. Just as on Earth, the highest temperatures (shown in yellow) were expected to occur after midday, in the early afternoon.

The upper right image in the annotated version shows the completely different pattern that Cassini actually saw. Instead of the expected smoothly varying temperatures, this side of Mimas is divided into a warm part (on the left) and a cold part (on the right) with a sharp, v-shaped boundary between them. The warm part has typical temperatures near 92 degrees Kelvin (minus 294 degrees Fahrenheit), while typical temperatures on the cold part are about 77 degrees Kelvin (minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit). The cold part is probably colder because surface materials there have a greater thermal conductivity, so the sun’s energy soaks into the subsurface instead of warming the surface itself. But why conductivity should vary so dramatically across the surface of Mimas is a mystery.

The lower two panels in the annotated version compare the temperature map to Mimas’ appearance in ordinary visible light at the time of the observations. The map used to create this image is a mosaic of images taken by Cassini’s imaging science subsystem cameras on previous flybys of Mimas. The cold side includes the giant Herschel Crater, which is a few degrees warmer than its surroundings. It’s not yet known whether Herschel is responsible in some way for the larger region of cold temperatures that surrounds it.

The green grid shows latitudes and longitudes on Mimas at 30-degree intervals.

via SwRI Press Release: 1980s video icon glows on Saturn moon.

Looks like whatever hit Mimas in the eye had a different composition and remained part of the moon.

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