Space

April 18, 2014

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of new Saturn moon

nasa-cassini
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet’s known moons.

Images taken with Cassini’s narrow angle camera on April 15, 2013 show disturbances at the very edge of Saturn’s A ring – the outermost of the planet’s large, bright rings. One of these disturbances is an arc about 20 percent brighter than its surroundings, 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) long and 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide. Scientists also found unusual protuberances in the usually smooth profile at the ring’s edge. Scientists believe the arc and protuberances are caused by the gravitational effects of a nearby object. Details of the observations were published online today (April 14, 2014) by the journal Icarus.

The object is not expected to grow any larger, and may even be falling apart. But the process of its formation and outward movement aids in our understanding of how Saturn’s icy moons, including the cloud-wrapped Titan and ocean-holding Enceladus, may have formed in more massive rings long ago. It also provides insight into how Earth and other planets in our solar system may have formed and migrated away from our star, the sun.

“We have not seen anything like this before,” said Carl Murray of Queen Mary University of London, and the report’s lead author. “We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right.”

The object, informally named Peggy, is too small to see in images so far. Scientists estimate it is probably no more than about a half mile in diameter. Saturn’s icy moons range in size depending on their proximity to the planet — the farther from the planet, the larger. And many of Saturn’s moons are comprised primarily of ice, as are the particles that form Saturn’s rings. Based on these facts, and other indicators, researchers recently proposed that the icy moons formed from ring particles and then moved outward, away from the planet, merging with other moons on the way.

“Witnessing the possible birth of a tiny moon is an exciting, unexpected event,” said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. According to Spilker, Cassini’s orbit will move closer to the outer edge of the A ring in late 2016 and provide an opportunity to study Peggy in more detail and perhaps even image it.

It is possible the process of moon formation in Saturn’s rings has ended with Peggy, as Saturn’s rings now are, in all likelihood, too depleted to make more moons. Because they may not observe this process again, Murray and his colleagues are wringing from the observations all they can learn.

“The theory holds that Saturn long ago had a much more massive ring system capable of giving birth to larger moons,” Murray said. “As the moons formed near the edge, they depleted the rings and evolved, so the ones that formed earliest are the largest and the farthest out.”

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines September 17, 2014

News: Pentagon open to U.S. ground troops in fight against Islamic State - The Pentagon’s top general opened the door Sept. 16 to the possibility that U.S. combat troops would be needed in Iraq, as he publicly laid out President Obama’s still-developing plans to combat Islamic State insurgents through U.S. air power and relying on an...
 
 

News Briefs September 17, 2014

U.S. to assign 3,000 troops to fight Ebola The Obama administration is preparing to assign 3,000 U.S. military personnel to West Africa to combat the Ebola outbreak that has overwhelmed local health care systems and drawn appeals for help from the region and aid organizations. The troops will supply medical and logistical support and boost...
 
 
Navy photograph

Future USNS Fall River delivered

Navy photograph The joint high speed vessel USNS Fall River (JHSV 4) completes acceptance trials testing and evaluations in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship’s trials included dockside testing to clear the ship for sea and at-...
 

 
University of Alaska-Fairbanks photograph by Chris Larsen

NASA airborne campaigns focus on climate impacts in Arctic

University of Alaska-Fairbanks photograph by Chris Larsen Changes in more than 130 Alaskan glaciers are being surveyed by scientists at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks in a DHC-3 Otter as part of NASA’s multi-year Oper...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Michael J. Pausic

Future of NATO: Adapting to a new security environment

Air Force photograph by Michael J. Pausic Gen. Phillip Breedlove informs the assembled crowd about the results of the recent NATO Summit and the areas of instability that affect Europe that have regional implications. Seated in...
 
 
Image courtesy of NASA/CXC/M. Weiss

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory finds planet that makes star act deceptively old

Image courtesy of NASA/CXC/M. Weiss A new study from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory shows that a giant exoplanet, WASP-18b, is making the star that it orbits very closely act much older than it actually is. This artist&...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>