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Saturnian moon looks like giant bath sponge

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July 6

One of the strangest moons in our solar system is Hyperion, a Saturnian satellite so pockmarked by deep craters that it looks like a giant, rotating bath sponge adrift in space.

Scientists determined that Hyperion is composed mostly of water ice and that the bottoms of its craters are covered in a dark red gunk that could be the key to resolving some of the moon's other strange properties.

Hyperion is one of the largest non-spherical bodies in the solar system. The moon is oval-shaped and about 250 miles (400 km) at its widest point.

Unlike most of Saturn's other satellites, it is not tidally locked to the ringed planet. Earth's moon, for example, is tidally locked, which is why we always see the same face of it.

The most striking thing about Hyperion, is its extremely pitted appearance. Hundreds of craters cover the surface, with most averaging 1 to 6 miles (2 to 10 kilometers) wide. Latest analyses show about 40 percent of the moon is empty space.

The surface of Hyperion is so brittle that an object striking it will create a hole but not send any material flying. Surrounding craters remain as deep as when they first formed.

Scientists attribute the moon's dinginess to contamination by a dark, organic material that litters Hyperion's surface and is concentrated in several of its craters.

The reddish gunk contains long chains of carbon and hydrogen and appears very similar to material found on other Saturnian satellites, most notably Iaeptus.

The third-largest moon of Saturn, Iaeptus is an unusual two-toned world with one half covered in gleaming ice and the other half coated in the same mysterious dark material that covers Hyperion.

Hyperion's strange shape and Iaeptus' odd paint job share a common origin. Scientists speculate a giant object collided with a still-round Hyperion in the distant past.

The impact sent Hyperion into a cosmic spin that it is still reeling from today and caused a shower of dust-like particles to fly outwards through space, where it struck an unaware Iapetus full in the face.

As to what the object might have been that struck Hyperion, the same reddish gunk can also be found on other icy objects in the outer solar system, including other moons, Kuiper Belt objects and comets.


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