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Journal Article

Photometric Analyses of Saturn's Small Moons: Aegaeon, Methone, and Pallene Are Dark; Helene and Calypso Are Bright


Roussos,  Elias
Department Planets and Comets, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;

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Hedman, M. M., Helfenstein, P., Chancia, R. O., Thomas, P., Roussos, E., Paranicas, C., et al. (2020). Photometric Analyses of Saturn's Small Moons: Aegaeon, Methone, and Pallene Are Dark; Helene and Calypso Are Bright. Astronomical Journal, 159(4): 129. doi:10.3847/1538-3881/ab659d.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-F516-D
We examine the surface brightnesses of Saturn's smaller satellites using a photometric model that explicitly accounts for their elongated shapes and thus facilitates comparisons among different moons. Analyses of Cassini imaging data with this model reveal that the moons Aegaeon, Methone, and Pallene are darker than one would expect given trends previously observed among the nearby mid-sized satellites. On the other hand, the trojan moons Calypso and Helene have substantially brighter surfaces than their co-orbital companions Tethys and Dione. These observations are inconsistent with the moons' surface brightnesses being entirely controlled by the local flux of E-ring particles, and therefore strongly imply that other phenomena are affecting their surface properties. The darkness of Aegaeon, Methone, and Pallene is correlated with the fluxes of high-energy protons, implying that high-energy radiation is responsible for darkening these small moons. Meanwhile, Prometheus and Pandora appear to be brightened by their interactions with the nearby dusty F ring, implying that enhanced dust fluxes are most likely responsible for Calypso's and Helene's excess brightness. However, there are no obvious structures in the E ring that would preferentially brighten these two moons, so there must either be something subtle in the E-ring particles' orbital properties that leads to asymmetries in the relevant fluxes, or something happened recently to temporarily increase these moons' brightnesses.