|What has happened to Saturn's moon Iapetus?
Vast sections of
this strange world are dark as
while others are as bright as ice.
The composition of the dark material is unknown, but
infrared spectra indicate that it possibly contains some dark form of
Iapetus also has an unusual
that makes it appear like a walnut.
To help better understand this seemingly painted moon,
robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn to swoop
within 2,000 kilometers in 2007.
from about 75,000 kilometers out, Cassini's trajectory allowed unprecedented imaging of the hemisphere of Iapetus that is
A huge impact crater seen in the south spans a tremendous 450 kilometers
and appears superposed on an
older crater of similar size.
The dark material
is seen increasingly coating the easternmost part of
Iapetus, darkening craters and highlands alike.
Close inspection indicates that the dark coating typically faces the moon's equator and is less than a meter thick.
A leading hypothesis is that the dark material is mostly
dirt leftover when relatively warm but dirty ice
An initial coating of
dark material may have been effectively painted on by the accretion of meteor-liberated debris from other moons.
This and other images from Cassini's
Iapetus flyby are being studied for even greater clues.
Cassini Imaging Team,