New images from a NASA spacecraft orbiting Saturn have revealed a view that any retro-gamer would recognize. A second moon with a heat tattoo of the 1980’s video game icon Pac-Man.
According to NBC News, the latest images were snapped by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during a photo session of Saturn’s icy moon Tethys. The images reveal an infrared pattern on the moon shaped like Pac-Man.
It is the second time Cassini has found a Pac-Man shaped heat pattern on a Saturn moon using its infrared spectrometer. The first time was in 2010, when the spacecraft found a similar view on Saturn’s moon Mimas.
Mimas is also known for it’s giant impact crater that gives it a similar look to the fictional Death Star from Star Wars.
Study leader Carly Howett said this in a statement on Monday:
“Finding a second Pac-Man in the Saturn system tells us the processes creating these Pac-Men are more widespread than previously thought. The Saturn system — and even the Jupiter system — could turn out to be a veritable arcade of these characters.”
Some scientists suspect that the Pac-Man shapes on Mimas and Tethys are created when high-energy electrons slam into low latitudes on the forward-facing sides of the moons as they orbit Saturn.
NASA officials say that this bombardment transforms the normally “fluffy” surface into hard-packed ice. They also said that the effect means that the hard-packed ice does not heat up as fast during the day or cool down as fast at night.
The surface of Tethys is also regularly bombarded by icy particles from geysers on Enceladus, which is another Saturn moon.
Researchers say that the Pac-Man heat signature on Tethys suggests that the surface changes from electron bombardment are occurring faster than the re-coating effect from Enceladus’ plumes.
Cassini spectrometer principal investigator Mike Flasar said this:
“Studies at infrared wavelengths give us a tremendous amount of information about the processes that shape planets and moons. A result like this underscores just how powerful these observations are.”
Cassini’s views of Tethys have also confirmed that the Pac-Man heat map on the moon can also be spotted in visible-light images as a dark, lens-shaped area. This surface oddity was first sighted by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in 1980, but now finally explained.
Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif said:
“Finding a new Pac-Man demonstrates the diversity of processes at work in the Saturn system. Future Cassini observations may reveal other new phenomena that will surprise us and help us better understand the evolution of moons in the Saturn system and beyond.”