Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2007 August 1
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Unusual Cratering on Saturn's Dione
Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Explanation: Why does one half of Dione have more craters than the other? Start with the fact that Saturn's moon Dione always has one side that faces Saturn, and always has one side that faces away. This is similar to Earth's Moon. This tidal locking means that one side of Dione always leads as the moon progresses in its orbit, while the other side always trails. Dione should therefore have undergone a significant amount of impacts on its leading half. But the current leading half of Dione is less cratered than the trailing half! A possible explanation is that some impacts were so large they spun Dione, sometimes changing the part that suffered the highest impact rate before the moon's spin again became locked. Pictured above, it is the top part of Dione that appears significantly more cratered than the bottom half.

Tomorrow's picture: big black eye

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