A new SwRI survey illustrates how distinct populations of craters on two of Saturn’s moons could help demonstrate the satellites’ age and the situations of their formation. Utilizing data from NASA’s Cassini mission, SwRI postdoctoral researcher Dr. Sierra Ferguson studied elliptical craters on Saturn’s moons Tethys and Dione for this research, which was co-authored by SwRI Principal Scientist Dr. Alyssa Rhoden, Lead Scientist Dr. Michelle Kirchoff and Lead Analyst, Dr. Julien Salmon.
“Our work aims to answer the broader question of how old these moons are. To get at this question, my colleagues and I mapped elliptical craters on the surfaces of these moons to determine their size, direction, and location on the moon,” Ferguson announced.
Circular craters are very prevalent and can be created from various impact conditions. However, elliptical craters are unusual and form from slow and straightforward impacts, making them particularly useful in determining an object’s age because shape and orientation also demonstrate their impactor’s trajectory.
“By measuring the direction these craters point, we can get an idea of what the impactors that made these craters looked like in a dynamical sense and from which direction they might have hit the surface,” she explained.
Ferguson thinks that the equatorial craters could have been created from independent disks of debris orbiting each moon or potentially an isolated disk that affected both moons.