In this view captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on its closest-ever flyby of Saturn's moon Mimas, large Herschel Crater dominates Mimas, making the moon look like the Death Star in the movie "Star Wars." 
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

Week in Geek: moon/no moon edition

For lovers of all things geek, this past week was a long time coming.

The release of Episode VII in the Star Wars series has been dominating my social media and a lot of traditional media as well. Having grown up with the original trilogy, I’m as excited as the next geek. But as an astrophysicist, I’m also excited about the explosion of “the science of Star Wars” posts that have been cropping up all over the place. And sometimes, truth is stranger than (science-)fiction.

Saturn's moon Mimas compared to the Death Star

My favorite example is Saturn’s moon, Mimas (pictured above), which is strikingly similar to the Death Star. Mimas was discovered by William Herschel in 1789, but the first images revealing its prominent crater weren’t taken until the Voyager spacecraft flew past Saturn in 1980 and 1981 - four years after the first Star Wars film was released! More recently, the Cassini spacecraft has studied the moon in more detail in the continued quest to find water elsewhere in our Solar System. Mimas has only frozen water, while its nearest neighbor moon, Enceladus has a subsurface ocean despite being closer to Saturn (and thereby subject to stronger tidal forces).

I’ve also been enjoying the series of posts physicist Rhett Allain has has been writing for Wired on the physics of specific events in the Star Wars canon. While I’m not patient enough to do all of these calculations on my own, I’m thrilled that someone else is. Allain walks you through the math to answer questions like: Does R2-D2 fly at a constant speed? Could Han have even shot second? How fast do TIE Fighters fly?

To round things out, here are a few more gems I’ve found:

Here’s some more geek from the week:

Keep on geeking!

@Summer_Ash, In-house Astrophysicist

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Week in Geek: moon/no moon edition