Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Yet Another Ring Around Saturn Discovered -- Who Knew?


An artist's vision of the newly discovered ring around Saturn -- the planet's largest ring. The artist's conception simulates an infrared view of the giant ring. Saturn appears as just a small dot from outside the band of ice and dust. The inset shows enlarged image of Saturn, as seen by the W.M. Keck Observatory at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in infrared light. The ring, stars and wispy clouds are an artist's representation. (Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Keck )

NASA discovered another humongous ring around the planet Saturn, this one so large it'd take 1 billion earths to fill it, notes USA Today's article on the subject.

Discovered by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, the humongo ring is so diffuse, it doesn't reflect much light and was only noticed by an infrared scan. According to NASA's announcement,

The discovery may help solve an age-old riddle of one of Saturn's moons. Iapetus has a strange appearance -- one side is bright and the other is really dark, in a pattern that resembles the yin-yang symbol. The astronomer Giovanni Cassini first spotted the moon in 1671, and years later figured out it has a dark side, now named Cassini Regio in his honor. A stunning picture of Iapetus taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft is online at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA08384 .

Saturn's newest addition could explain how Cassini Regio came to be. The ring is circling in the same direction as Phoebe, while Iapetus, the other rings and most of Saturn's moons are all going the opposite way. According to the scientists, some of the dark and dusty material from the outer ring moves inward toward Iapetus, slamming the icy moon like bugs on a windshield.
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