A thrilling ride is about to begin for NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Engineers have been pumping up the probe’s orbit around Saturn this year to increase its tilt with respect to the planet’s equator and rings. And on 30 November, following a gravitational nudge from Saturn’s moon Titan, Cassini will enter the first phase of the mission’s dramatic endgame.
Janus and Tethys demonstrate the main difference between small moons and large ones; it’s all about their shape. Moons like Tethys are large enough that their own gravity is sufficient to overcome the material strength of the substances they are made of and mould them into spherical shapes, but small moons like Janus are not massive enough for their gravity to form them into a sphere.