Cassini snaps closest ever photo of Saturn's bizarre 'flying saucer' moon Atlas

Agamoni Ghosh

Cassini-Huygens, the space orbiter designated for Saturn and its moons, has snapped the closest image yet of the icy planet's bizarre flying saucer-shaped moon Atlas.

The images released by Nasa are raw and unprocessed, and were taken on Tuesday (12 April) by Cassini spacecraft. The flyby had a close approach distance of about 11,000kms.

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Atlas, the closest satellite to the sharp outer edge of Saturn's A ring, has been observed by scientists over the years for its peculiar shape.

The moon's unusual shape has been attributed to ring material being swept by the moon. The material accumulates towards the equator of Atlas, giving it the distinct bump in the middle.

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The latest images, which provide the closest-ever look at the moon, will help scientists understand its shape and geology. They were snapped by Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, which is a cooperative project of Nasa, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency.

The Cassini orbiter is slated to be destroyed soon. On 15 September, 2017, Cassini will plunge into Saturn's thick atmosphere.

The orbiter has observed and transmitted some path breaking data, including the recent discovery of Enceladus' capability of supporting life. Before its plunge, it will complete its "grand finale" phase of its mission — a series of 22 orbitals between Saturn's cloud tops and the edge of its innermost ring.

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