Pop culture references continue to pop up on the subject of Saturn’s moons, where scientists have spotted — not once, but twice — what appears to be the videogame character Pac-Man.
The Cassini-Huygens probe turned up the distinct image while reading the surface temperature of Tethys, one of Saturn’s numerous moons. It resembles the iconic character that once ate pellets and quarters in video arcades around the world.
Cassini recorded a similar image when it pointed its infrared spectrometer at Mimas, another of Saturn’s moons, in 2010.
Mimas was already known to star-gazers and fans of 1980s pop culture as the "Death Star" moon because of its resemblance to the massive space station seen in the Star Wars movies.
The latest Pac-Man sighting and its significance were reported this week in the journal Icarus.
The image indicates higher temperature areas on the surface of the moons caused, researchers theorize, by high-energy electrons from the sun. The electrons bombard and alter the icy surface, causing sections to warm up and cool down at different rates.
Researchers say the findings shed new light on the processes that shape planets and moons.
"Finding a new Pac-Man demonstrates the diversity of processes at work in the Saturn system," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement. "Future Cassini observations may reveal other new phenomena that will surprise us and help us better understand the evolution of moons in the Saturn system and beyond."
The Cassini probe is a joint effort by groups including NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the European Space Agency.