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“Death Star” Moon Gets Its Close-Up

“That’s no moon. Oh, wait, yes it is!”
—Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

When Luke said that TIE fighter was headed toward a “small moon,” he must have had Mimas on his mind.

Since the 1980s this small Saturn moon has been likened to the fictional Death Star, thanks to its most noticeable blemish, the 88-mile-wide (140-kilometer-wide) Herschel Crater.

Of course, while the Death Star’s “crater” was really a weapon that could obliterate planets, Mimas’s crater was made by an impact that likely almost shattered the tiny moon.

For starters, the basin’s width is almost a third of the width of the moon as a whole—for a rocky body, take a hit like that without getting rattled.

In fact, fractures on the other side of Mimas appear to have been made by the impact shock as it traveled clean through the moon.
The second Death Star? Nah, just an incomplete image from Cassini.

—Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Despite this blow and some other serious, if smaller scale, cratering, Mimas is the tiniest body that stays round thanks to its own gravity.

Scientifically speaking, this is a moon we would like to know better.

Today NASA unveiled some of its most detailed pictures yet of Mimas, taken during a close approach by the Cassini orbiter.

Cassini zoomed in for the flyby last week, making its closest pass on Saturday, at a mere 5,900 miles (9,500 kilometers) from the moon’s surface.

The raw pictures took a few days to get beamed back to Earth, landing in NASA’s lap just yesterday. But the unprocessed snapshots are already revealing some of Mimas’s secrets, including the bright and amazingly steep slopes inside Herschel.
Mimas’s surface, up close and personal

—Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

“This flyby has been like looking at a cell or an onion skin under the microscope for the first time,” Bonnie Buratti, one of the science team leaders, said in a statement.

“We’d seen the large crater from afar since the early 1980s, but now its small bumps and blemishes are all clearly visible.”

Later processing and study of the pictures could offer even more tidbits about the pockmarked moon, such as what its exact composition might be, why its south pole is lacking in large craters, and just how it influences Saturn’s rings.
Mimas (near) and Epimetheus (far) lie along Saturn’s ringplane in a natural-color snapshot from Cassini.

—Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute


  1. Aylen
    March 17, 2012, 4:07 am

    That’s actually ring adhsows, not the rings themselves. Notice how diffuse they look. Also notice how I didn’t register the moving cloud patterns so the clouds have that rainbow effect. Cassini’s slow cameras can sometimes be a real pain

  2. Ryan
    May 6, 2011, 3:28 pm

    Even though Mimis is much smaller than earth, I’ll bet if a celestial body the size of the one that made that crater hit earth, it would have been like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. That’s one big crater.
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  3. Terry Winkle
    August 3, 2010, 10:27 pm
  4. James Dirthing
    August 3, 2010, 7:05 pm

    Oh wow! I’ve totally got to link this to some Star Wars buddies of mine, they are going to flip out over this! Very very cool, thank you so much for this article! I wonder if they’re be doing anymore Star Wars posts?
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  5. wilma
    August 2, 2010, 5:07 am

    Awesome stuff, thank you for your time and efforts
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  6. diyRoberts
    July 30, 2010, 12:57 pm
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    July 30, 2010, 10:12 am
  8. Terry Winkle
    July 22, 2010, 1:49 am

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  9. inter4522
    July 21, 2010, 4:57 pm

    I am not sure what the purpose of this moon is. There is nothing to it. I wonder if we can get any information from it in the future.
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  10. jack
    July 19, 2010, 4:38 am

    Thank you for another essential article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a complete way of writing? I have a presentation incoming week, and I am on the lookout for such information.
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  11. jameslee
    July 18, 2010, 9:03 pm

    This is so amazing to see this other moon. We should be getting some great information from it. We need to find more like this in the future.
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  13. pat
    July 8, 2010, 9:42 am

    Interesting, however I’m glad I’m on planet earth 🙂
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  14. WillPR
    July 5, 2010, 7:30 pm

    Craters fascinate me as I never really know how they arrived! Excellent research
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  15. inter4522
    June 30, 2010, 10:15 pm

    This crater on this moon is so huge. I always wondered what happened her in the past. Saturn is such an interesting planet with its moon. The love to look at it.
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  16. josi
    June 29, 2010, 12:26 pm

    Aw, this was a really great post. In theory I’d like to write like this also – taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.News Travel Health body Autos Technology Azka Business Health for life

  17. js
    June 22, 2010, 8:38 pm

    I’ve never heard of dark matter, but this does make me think about how amazing creation really is!
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  18. Husker
    June 22, 2010, 12:14 am

    The trick is that a lot of the gravitational “glue” in a galaxy cluster is actually coming from mass that we can’t see. You guessed it: dark matter.
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    While we can’t see dark matter, we can tell something must be there, because lots of things in the universe don’t look or act the way they should if visible matter was the only player.

  19. penarthits
    June 20, 2010, 8:16 pm

    Some of this stuff just boggles my mind, but it’s so interesting, thanks!
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  20. diyRoberts
    June 17, 2010, 6:42 am

    God is good, what an amazing planet!
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  21. joeleighton
    June 14, 2010, 5:38 am

    Herschel is a huge crater in the leading hemisphere of the Saturnian moon Mimas. It is named after the eighteenth century astronomer William Herschel, who discovered Mimas in 1789.
    Its walls are approximately 3 miles high, parts of its floor are 6 miles deep, and its central peak rises 3.5 miles above the crater floor. If there were a crater of an equivalent scale on Earth, it would be over 2,500 miles in diameter and wider than Canada.
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