No, that’s not an alien saucer you’re seeing — it’s Atlas, one of Saturn’s many moons.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft snapped a bunch of up-close and personal images of Atlas this week during a flyby, about 7,000 miles from the UFO-looking moon. The space agency has released thousands of images of Saturn and its natural satellites, not just Atlas, even though they have yet to be processed.
The small moon orbits near its planet, “just outside the A ring — the outermost of the planet’s bright, main rings,” NASA said. “These images are the closest ever taken of Atlas and will help to characterize its shape and geology.”
There is still a lot to learn about Atlas. Astronomers didn’t even know it existed until 1980 when the Voyager 1 spacecraft observed it. At only 19 miles across, about the distance between the bottom tip of Manhattan and the top of the Bronx in New York City, it absolutely pales in comparison to the size of Saturn, the second-largest planet in our solar system.
Cassini has made headlines recently because it is in its final year of observing Saturn and its moons, squeezing in final photos before it runs out of fuel and NASA sends it into Saturn’s atmosphere to burn up dramatically. The spacecraft has also put Saturn’s rings and its moon Enceladus front and center — NASA has just reported Enceladus, along with Jupiter’s moon Europa, might host alien life in its subsurface oceans, based on the heat and energy sources that likely exist there.