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EYES TO THE HEAVENS: Astronomers say there may be a 'new Saturn moon'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
4/17/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

If confirmed, heavenly body would become the 63rd moon in Saturn's orbit

All eyes are on the heavens as astronomers theorize that another moon for the ringed planet of Saturn may be on its way. If the heavenly body in the rings of Saturn is confirmed, it would make for the planet's 63rd moon.

The disturbance in the edge of the ring is 20 percent brighter than its surroundings and about 750 miles long and six miles wide.

The disturbance in the edge of the ring is 20 percent brighter than its surroundings and about 750 miles long and six miles wide.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
4/17/2014 (3 years ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: Saturn, new moon, Astronomy


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Named "Peggy," astronomers first noted a black-and-white image in the outermost ring captured by the Cassini spacecraft.

"Witnessing the birth of a tiny moon is an exciting, unexpected event," Linda Spilker of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says. A bump, or distortion on the edge of the ring makes scientists believe there is the presence of some kind of object.

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It's estimated that Peggy may be about a half a mile in diameter and it is almost certainly made of ice.

"All we know is that something is there - what we can track is the effect of an object in the rings perturbing the particles around it, creating a disturbance in the rings," Cassini imaging scientist Professor Carl Murray of Queen Mary University of London says. Murray told reporters that this was the first time this kind of observation had been made.

The disturbance in the edge of the ring is 20 percent brighter than its surroundings and about 750 miles long and six miles wide.

The captured image may have captured the moment of the moon's birth amid the clouds of ice particles which composes Saturn's rings.

"The rings are icy, more than 90% pure water-ice, so with the particles colliding you have the ideal conditions for objects to accrete, for objects to form in this region, and images do show this kind of clumpiness," according to Murray.

The foremost theory is that because the rings contain substantial amounts of ice, and because many of Saturn's moons are composed primarily of ice, the rings provide the nursery for new moons before they migrate to more distant orbits.

What happens to Peggy now is not yet known. If it continues to orbit inside the rings, it runs the risk of collisions with smaller lumps of ice. The new moon may very well disintegrate.

If Peggy does escape beyond the rings, it will run the gauntlet of drifting through the paths of much larger moons.

The moon's small size means that if it does migrate beyond the rings, it will drop off the map for scientific observation.

"Peggy is trying to make its own way in the world. If it escapes, it has to get past some much larger predecessors and if it avoids them it may still get hit by a meteoric bombardment," Murray says.

"Babies are safer in the womb but they have to leave sometime - and the paradox is that to get to safety Peggy has to pass between other much larger objects."

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