Saturn’s moon Pan
© JPL / NASA
Newly released photographs of Pan, one of Saturn's moons, have revealed that the tiny satellite bears a striking resemblance to science fiction's imaginings of what an alien spacecraft looks like. That, or a giant piece of ravioli.

Cassini scientist Carolyn Porco took to Twitter to share some of the extraordinary new images snapped by the spacecraft. She also revealed some of the comparisons people were making about the tiny moon, which has a diameter of just 17 miles (28km).

"After 13 years, we've come to expect extreme reactions to our images. But hunger? Ravioli, tortellini, empanada, pierogi, hamburger, brie?" Porco said.


The planetary scientist also answered questions about Pan's unusual shape. "For those who asked: Pan orbits in a ring gap of its own making. Early on & to some degree even now, ring material falls on its equator," she tweeted.

"I, too, thought when I 1st saw these pics, they must be an artist's depiction & not real. They are real! Science is better than fiction."


Cassini photographed Pan during a flyby on March 7 and NASA released the pictures on Thursday, saying: "These images are the closest images ever taken of Pan and will help to characterize its shape and geology."

The flyby had a close-approach distance of 24,572km (15,268 miles).

The tiny moon orbits Saturn within a gap between the rings of dust and debris encircling the planet.


Cassini has been exploring Saturn and its moons since it was launched in 1997. It is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

Among its discoveries are a global ocean on the planet's sixth largest moon, Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on its largest moon, Titan. The mission ends later this year when the spacecraft will burn up in Saturn's atmosphere.

Saturn moon Pan
© JPL / NASA