The Plot Thickens

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Colorado
Image source with more information

Larry Esposito, principal investigator for Cassini's Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said data from NASA's Voyager spacecraft in the 1970s, and later from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, led scientists to believe Saturn's rings were relatively youthful and likely created by a comet that shattered a large moon, perhaps 100 million years ago.

But ring features seen by instruments on Cassini -- which arrived at Saturn in 2004 -- indicate the rings were not formed by a single cataclysmic event. The ages of the different rings appear to vary significantly, and the ring material is continually being recycled, Esposito said.

"The evidence is consistent with the picture that Saturn has had rings all through its history," said Esposito of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. "We see extensive, rapid recycling of ring material, in which moons are continually shattered into ring particles, which then gather together and re-form moons."

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Also, dig this:

The team tagged the clumpy moonlets with cat names like "Mittens" and "Fluffy" because they appear to come and go unexpectedly over time and have multiple lives[.]


zhoen said...

The cat humor... always the cat humor.

Tinker said...

Moon kittens, what a concept...
Do they also shed and shred Saturn's rings?

Pacian said...

@Z: A cat walks into a bar...

@T: A, uh, very cute way of putting it. ^_^