For millennia, people have been saying that our own moon is made of cheese. It’s a silly idea that dates back to the 16th century, and it has become such a pop culture touchstone that NASA in 2002 released a cheeky photoshopped image of an expiration date on the lunar surface as part of an April Fool’s Day prank to “prove” the old myth. While NASA was only joking about our moon being made of cheese, the agency recently released images of Saturn’s moon pan, and the silly image looks like a different food altogether: it looks for all the world like a dumpling moon.
NASA has shared a photo of Saturn’s moon, and it looks more like a dumpling than the spherical shape of Earth’s Moon that we’re used to seeing.
Of course, “dumpling” is just one possible food description for this strange moon. As NASA wrote at the beginning of its post, many people see different things when they look at this image of Saturn’s moon. “Ravioli, pierogi, empanada,” they wrote, asking different users what they saw in this image and that there were “no wrong answers.”
How Saturn’s Moon Got Its Dumpling Shape
We’re still getting over the fact that Saturn has its own dumpling moon, but we bet you have very straightforward question: why does this image look so weird? The short answer is that this particular moon was most likely shaped over many years by collisions with smaller objects.
As reported by Space.com, “computer simulations revealed that near-head-on collisions led to ravioli-like flattened objects with equatorial ridges, similar to the shapes of Pan,” which established the most authoritative theory on how the dumpling moon (or ravioli moon, as many call it) got its groovy shape.
In addition to looking so very different from our own moon, Pan has a very different behavior: not only does it orbit Saturn from a gap in one of the planet’s rings, but it completes an orbit every 13.8 hours.
Like most objects in our solar system, Pan was discovered long before we could get a very close look at it. The moon was discovered in 1990 thanks to images taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft nine years previously. In 2017, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft had a very close encounter (it came within 15,300 miles) with the celestial object, giving us our best photos yet of this bizarre dumpling moon in our cosmic backyard.
In addition to looking so very different from our own moon, Pan has a very different behavior: not only does it orbit Saturn from a gap in one of the planet’s rings, but it completes an orbit every 13.8 hours. The dumpling moon’s orbit is much, much quicker than that of our own moon, which takes 27.3 days to complete an orbit of our planet.
How, though, did one of Saturn’s moons get a name as strange as “Pan?” Simple: Saturn’s moons were named for various mythological characters, and Pan is named after the Greek god of both the forest and nature itself. There is a certain irony there: Pan is famous for being a half-man, half-goat…not exactly what you’d expect a god to look like, just like a dumpling isn’t what anyone would expect a moon to look like.
If nothing else, these images are a reminder of just how amazingly beautiful and delightfully weird our own solar system can be. We can’t help but think that these images are good news for Nintendo fans as well. After all, once Mario finds out there are ravioli shapes in space, we might finally get Super Mario Galaxy 3 so this famous Italian icon can make his own inspection of Pan.