It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Nope. It’s Pac-Man! Perhaps everyone’s favorite ghost gobbler from the 80s isn’t making a comeback to our television or computer screens just yet, but that’s okay. He’s found a much larger place to reside: in one of Saturn’s moons.
Scientists with NASA’s Cassini mission have spotted this second Pac-Man shaped feature on the moon Tethys in Saturn’s system. That’s right; this is not the first Pac-Man on the moon. The first space Pac-Man was found on Mimas back in 2010. According to Carly Howett, lead author of a recent paper in the online journal, Icarus,
“Finding a second Pac-Man in the Saturn system tells us that the processes creating these Pac-Men are more widespread than previously thought. The Saturn system – and even the Jupiter system – could turn out to be a veritable arcade of these characters.”
The Pac-Man shapes were found in thermal data obtained by a composite infrared spectrometer with the warmer areas making the Pac-Man shape. Scientists theorize that this is caused by the high-energy electrons bombarding the lower latitudes on the forward-facing side of the moon as it orbits Saturn. In turn, this bombardment then converts the area into hard-packed ice. As a result, the altered surface does not respond to heat or cooling as quickly as the rest of the surface.
Although you have to admit that Pac-Man in Space would be a pretty cool video game plot, this finding actually paves a lot of ground for future research beyond gaming. The origins of this particular Pac-Man provides scientists with deeper insight into how planets and moons are shaped, as well as the diversity of the processes in Saturn’s system. Moving forward, as Cassini project scientist, Linda Spilker says it,
“Future Cassini observations may reveal other new phenomena that will surprise us and help us better understand the evolution of moons in the Saturn system and beyond.”
To Saturn and beyond? For Pac-Man, anything is possible.