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Saturn's Spongy Moon

Saturn has a lot going for it. The planet's spectacular rings are pretty cool. It has 31 moons, maybe more. Its largest moon, Titan, even has its own atmosphere. One of its smaller moons, Hyperion, looks like a potato and tumbles strangely as it orbits the planet. Now, the Cassini spacecraft, which is in orbit around Saturn, has taken the first close-up pictures of Hyperion. And the view is surprising. Hyperion is 266 kilometers (165 miles) across, and it has an irregular shape. Much of its inside is probably empty space. Scientists describe the moon as a "rubble pile." On Sept. 26, Cassini swooped to within 500 kilometers (310 miles) of the icy moon. The close-up images showed that Hyperion's surface is unlike that of any of the planet's other moons. They revealed a reddish surface dotted with craters and changed by some unknown process to give it a spongy look. Some Cassini researchers suspect that the spongelike appearance is a result of closely packed craters that were never filled in. Usually, when craters form, debris falls back into the holes. The gravity from nearby Titan, however, may have prevented that from happening.E. Sohn

Saturn's Spongy Moon
Saturn's Spongy Moon

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