Congratulations! It’s a baby… moon? A bright clump spotted orbiting Saturn at the outermost edge of its A ring may be a brand new moon in the process of being born, according to research recently published in the journal Icarus.
“We have not seen anything like this before,” said Carl Murray of Queen Mary University in London, lead author of the paper. “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.”
We all know that Saturn is encircled by a system of rings, and perhaps you also know about the fainter rings around Uranus, Jupiter, and Neptune. But today, ESO astronomers have revealed a surprising discovery: there are also rings surrounding the asteroid 10199 Chariklo, a small, distant world orbiting the Sun far beyond Saturn.
This makes 250-km-wide Chariklo the fifth world ever found to have rings, after the four planets mentioned previously, and, based on the observations, it could also even have its own moon.
“As well as the rings, it’s likely that Chariklo has at least one small moon still waiting to be discovered,” said Felipe Braga-Ribas of the Observatório Nacional/MCTI in Rio de Janeiro who planned the observation campaign and is lead author on the new paper.
Go get some extra socks handy because this new image of Saturn is going to knock ‘em clean off your feet.
Seen in eclipse against the light of the Sun, Saturn and its rings seem to glow with a magical light in this picture, painstakingly assembled from 141 separate wide-angle images taken by the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013. The view is over 400,000 miles wide and Cassini was on the night side of Saturn, almost a billion miles away.
And you know what’s even cooler? You’re in this image. We all are, in fact.
…not without a spaceship, anyway. But Cassini can — and did — on October 10, 2013 (mostly because it IS a spaceship) and thanks to the image-editing skills of Gordan Ugarkovic you too can enjoy the incredible view!
Cassini gets a great look at Saturn’s southern half in this color-composite, assembled from raw images acquired on July 13, 2013.
Click for a larger view in my Flickr stream (the original raw images were only 1024 px, so it’s still a little grainy.) I adjusted the channel histograms quite a bit to achieve a more natural — albeit brighter — “Saturny” coloration.
In this rotated view, Saturn’s south pole is just off frame at lower right. The barely-there bands of the innermost D ring can be seen silhouetted against the planet at top center.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided the first direct evidence of small meteoroids breaking into streams of rubble and crashing into Saturn’s rings.
These observations make Saturn’s rings the only location besides Earth, the Moon and Jupiter where meteor impacts have been observed as they occur. The meteoroids at Saturn are estimated to range from about one-half inch to several yards (1 centimeter to several meters) in size.
“These new results imply the current-day impact rates for small particles at Saturn are about the same as those at Earth — two very different neighborhoods in our solar system — and this is exciting to see,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It took Saturn’s rings acting like a giant meteoroid detector — 100 times the surface area of the Earth — and Cassini’s long-term tour of the Saturn system to address this question.”
A rain of ionized water molecules falls into Saturn’s upper atmosphere from its rings, researchers from England’s University of Leicester have found. Using images from NASA’s Voyager spacecraft and more recent near-infrared observations from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, it has been found that dark bands seen across Saturn are actually the “rain shadows” of particles from the rings interacting with the planet’s atmosphere, effectively cooling it and reducing heat emissions in those areas.
“Saturn is the first planet to show significant interaction between its atmosphere and ring system,” said James O’Donoghue, the paper’s lead author and a postgraduate researcher at Leicester. “The main effect of ring rain is that it acts to ‘quench’ the ionosphere of Saturn. In other words, this rain severely reduces the electron densities in regions in which it falls.”