A delicate new ring and possibly two new moons have been spotted around Saturn by the US-European Cassini mission, astronomers announced Thursday.
Astronomers at Queen Mary University of London, UK, detected a faint dust ring 300 kilometres wide in images taken by the spacecraft since July 2004. The ring lies 1200 km beyond the main ring system, between the bright, wide A ring and the faint, outermost F ring. It has been seen in an arc spanning about a tenth of the rings' circumference and may extend all the way around the planet.
Its location coincides with that of Saturn's moon Atlas, suggesting the moon is shedding pieces of itself as it collides with micrometeorites in its orbit. "The ring is being constantly replenished," team member Mike Evans likening the process to the two moons thought to cause Jupiter's dusty ring, the New Scientist informed.
According to the MSNBC News, at a distance of 86,000 miles (138,000 kilometers) from the center of Saturn, the previously unknown ring, designated S/2004 1R, lies in the orbit of the small moon Atlas. It is unknown yet whether the ring actually makes a full circle around the planet or is just an arc.
Astronomers have estimated the width of material in the ring to be 190 miles (300 kilometers). In comparison, the A ring is 9,070 miles (14,600 kilometers) wide, while the F ring is 31 miles (50 kilometers) wide.
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