Tiny Moonlet Discovered in Saturn's Rings Solves an Astronomical Puzzle

By Eliza Strickland | March 4, 2009 8:46 am

Saturn new moonThe Cassini space probe has detected a tiny moon nestled in one of Saturn’s outermost rings, making it the 61st known Saturnian satellite. The moonlet measures only about one-third of a mile in diameter, but researchers say the diminuitive moon is big enough to be the likely source of the dust that forms the ring, thus solving a mystery.

Cassini spotted the moonlet as a bright streak of light in the second to last ring from Saturn, which is called the G ring. “Before Cassini, the G ring was the only dusty ring that was not clearly associated with a known moon, which made it odd,” said [Cassini scientist] Matthew Hedman…. “The discovery of this moonlet, together with other Cassini data, should help us make sense of this previously mysterious ring” [CNN].

Researchers say that meteoroids have probably collided with the small moon throughout the solar system’s history, sending out sprays of dust to fill up the G ring. Says Hedman: “Being one of the bigger objects, the moonlet is likely to be hit more often.” … This means the moonlet is probably a significant source of ring material, the scientists say. In the long term, “as this and other objects grind themselves down, it’s conceivable they would disappear, and then the G ring would disappear,” Hedman noted [National Geographic News].

Cassini’s observations, announced in a notice from the International Astronomical Union, revealed that the moonlet moves in a partial “ring arc” that extends about one-sixth of the way around the G ring. Cassini, which was funded by NASA and the European and Italian space agencies, launched in 1997 and took seven years to make the 934 million-mile (1.5 billion-kilometer) trip to Saturn. Since its arrival, Cassini has been making a looping voyage through the Saturn system and is returning loads of data on the ringed planet and its moons [CNN].

Related Content:
Bad Astronomy: Cassini spots a moon, solves a mystery has more on this discovery
80beats: On Saturn’s Moon Titan, It’s Raining Methane
80beats: New Evidence of Hospitable Conditions for Life on Saturn’s Moons
80beats: Geysers From Saturn’s Moon May Indicate Liquid Lakes, and a Chance for Life
80beats: Hydrocarbon Lake on Saturnian Moon May Be a Hotspot for Alien Life

Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

  • Chris Niemann

    Did you know that the Psychic philosopher and mathematician, Rudolf Steiner, claimed in his book Cosmic Consciousness, that humanity in spirit form visited first Saturn, then the Sun, the moon and finally our earth? We laid down the groundwork long before Adam and Eve came to inhabit this marvelous green planet. In the bible it says that first we make our bed, then we lie down in it. Let’s ask Rush Limbaugh :):):) how we made those golden rings around Saturn. I’m sure it was considered part of the conservative movement at the time, so surely he would have an understanding of the sacred mathematics fundamental for their construction.

  • FILTHpig

    In respose to Chris Niemann: Ummm…WTF?

  • Chris Niemann

    To FILTHpig. Does WTF stand for “Was That Funny?” If so, the only part of my message made in jest was the reference to that man anong men, that speaker whose eloquence is matched only by Clarabell the Clown, R.L.

  • Grant

    Rudolf Steiner was more pagan inclined than bible.
    Although I find Steiner very interesting despite him being superstitious, he had nothing to do with the Cassini space probe or this discovery of this moon that’s likely the source of the material making up the G ring.
    Chris, do you know much about Saturn’s moons? I find it fascinating, the different environments they have. I hope one day to see photos taken from the surface of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. That would be a sight!

  • Chris Niemann

    Grant, I have many more questions than I have answers, something like at least 10 to 1. I do know that Rudolf Steiner was a well respected mathematician. You can “google” him and get the lowdown on his bio. He has a following today, especially in Austrailia and New Zealand, but also in this country. Steiner claimed that by going into a meditative state, he could “remember” (see in his mind) past events, well before what we would call “recorded time.” One thing in his book “Cosmic Consciousness” that impressed me was that he never justified anything. He never used the word “because.” He simply stated his findings at fact.

    I’ve always been intrigued by the rings around Saturn, even when we thought there were only three. Why did Saturn have rings and none of the other planets? What were they made out of? How could the rings have formed so far from the sun? Did Steiner have the answers a century ago? ????

  • Chris Niemann

    To Grant, Typo: He simply stated his findings “as” fact.

  • Aaron

    Very interesting article, typo on the very first word (Tthe), however.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Thanks, Aaron. Don’t know how I missed that, but it’s fixed now.

  • Ian

    To Chris Niemann:

    WTF does not mean “Was that funny?”.
    It means “What the F…U…C…K…?” and refers to the absurdity of your initial comment.

    Reading further, I’m glad that you are “impressed” by the fact that Steiner never tries to justify his ridiculous claims.
    Life must be a lot easier when you question nothing.

  • Chris Niemann

    yes there are two of us with the same name… and yes i have the SAME exact name

    valley stream new york, where its at


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