picture of the day
Atlas, a small lens-shaped moon of
Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL Cassini-Huygens mission.
Oct 26, 2007
Atlas, Saturn's Lenticular Moon
If the equatorial
ridge of Iapetus suggests electrical activity then Atlas
reveals the potential extremity of that force.
In several past
Picture of the Day articles, we have discussed the
electrical origin of Saturn's moon,
Iapetus and compared it to formations found on Earth.
The equatorial ridge that girdles the moon is indicative of
compression effects that occur when current flows through
plasma or electrically conductive solid objects. The z-pinch
(or Bennett pinch) phenomenon forces the material into a
smaller and smaller volume, squeezing it into a
characteristic distortion at right angles to the energy
flow. The structure of Atlas, one of Saturn's smallest
moons, exhibits a dramatic example of that potential power.
Richard J. Terrile
discovered Atlas after analyzing images returned by the
Voyager 1 spacecraft during its flyby of Saturn on November
12, 1980. Atlas was named after one of the mythological
Titans, the son of Iapetus. It is 40 kilometers long by 20
kilometers wide and rotates around its
flattened plane. Atlas appears to act as a "shepherd
moon" to Saturn's A ring along with its sibling, Pan,
sharpening the edges of the ring and maintaining its width.
theory proposes that Atlas was formed through a process of
accretion. The tiny body probably originated as a piece of
space debris that was captured by Saturn's enormous gravity.
As it passed in and out of Saturn's ring plane, its
miniscule gravitational field attracted particles from the
rings and deposited them on the surface of the moon.
Supposedly, this 'particulate drizzle' has built-up the
edges of Atlas, creating the moon's exceptional shape and
erasing any trace of cratering. It has also left a thick
deposit of dust uniformly distributed over its surface
obscuring the 'original' form.
As we have noted
in the past, Saturn and its
ring system is not a neutral environment but is highly
charged and electrically active. The rings possess many
features that cannot be explained by gravity alone, or the
influence of the many moonlets orbiting with them. The "spokes"
that seem to hover above the ring plane, the thousands of
bands that are sorted by their chemical composition, the
x-ray light that they emit - all of those characteristics
decry the standard explanations for their inconsistency.
exists inside the electromagnetic fields of its parent then
its influence on Saturn's rings could be considered an
electrical phenomenon, as well. Present theories propose
moons" push and pull the individual rings as they orbit
together. Atlas and Pan orbit just outside and just inside
the A ring. As they play catch up with each other in their
orbits, they alternately push the ring particles in toward
Saturn and then pull them out and away, keeping the ring
stable. The gravitational fields of the two moons may also
Encke Gap, as the theory states.
Universe model sees the Saturnian system differently. The
charged moons and the charged rings are alternately
repelling and attracting each other as they move through the
plasma sheath surrounding Saturn. Electric discharges from
the giant planet might be what created the rings and moons
in the first place, so electricity in its myriad
manifestations could be responsible for their arrangement.
At some point in
the past, according to EU theory, Saturn experienced a
violent upheaval that saw plasma discharges and incredibly
intense auroral curtains sweep through the solar system. Any
celestial bodies within the range of the outburst would have
been hammered by powerful currents, bombarded with intense
radiation, heated and half-melted and then blasted with
lightning bolts as big as continents. All of that energy
could have created the distinctive shape of Atlas, as well.
By Stephen Smith
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