If you want to understand what causes the gaps in Saturn’s rings, just look at this picture. The bright object in the middle of Saturn’s Encke gap is one of its moons: Pan. The tiny moon is only 26 km (16 miles) across, but its minor gravity can clear out the ring particles. Cassini took this image on October 27, 2006 when it was 385,000 km (239,000 miles) from Pan.
This Cassini spacecraft view of Pan in the Encke gap shows hints of detail on the moon’s dark side, which is lit by saturnshine — sunlight reflected off Saturn.
Pan (26 kilometers, or 16 miles across) cruises the Encke gap (325 kilometers, or 200 miles wide) with several faint ringlets.
This view looks toward the lit side of the rings from about 52 degrees below the ringplane. The sunlit portion of Pan is partly overexposed.
The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Oct. 27, 2006 at a distance of approximately 385,000 kilometers (239,000 miles) from Pan and at a Sun-Pan-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 86 degrees. Image scale is 2 kilometers (1 mile) per pixel.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org .
Original Source: NASA/JPL/SSI