Saturn has a new, giant, previously invisible ring

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Saturn Giant Ring_Newm.jpg

First they tell us Pluto's not a planet. Now this? What is going on at NASA?

The good folks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have found a previously hidden new ring around Saturn that's so big it could fit 1 billion, yes, with a B, Earths inside.

"This is one supersized ring," said one of the authors, Anne Verbiscer, an astronomer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Her co-authors are Douglas Hamilton and Michael Skrutskie, also of the University of Virginia.

So how does this giant space hoop go so long without being spotted in a time of space exploration where we look for anything possible in the heavens? It was invisible.

Turns out the new ring, made up of ice and dust, only shows up on infrared inspection with the heat signatures of its frozen mass can be seen clearly. And it's so diffuse, you could be floating in the middle of it without realizing you're in a rin, reports space.com:

"This thing is just immense," Hamilton, of the University of Maryland, one of the astronomers who found the ring, said. "If you look at just a small patch of it, you just see fuzziness."

Saturn's moon Phoebe orbits within the ring and is believed to be the source of the material. The ring also may answer the riddle of another moon, Iapetus, which has a bright side and a very dark side.

moon.jpgThe ring circles in the same direction as Phoebe, while Iapetus, the other rings and most of Saturn's other moons go the opposite way. Scientists think material from the outer ring moves inward and slams into Iapetus.

"Astronomers have long suspected that there is a connection between Saturn's outer moon Phoebe and the dark material on Iapetus," said Hamilton. "This new ring provides convincing evidence of that relationship."

With all the looking into the distance being done, it makes you wonder what we have in our own backyard that hasn't been found yet.

The discovery was made with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and you can find more detail and images at the JPL page on the discovery.

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    This page contains a single entry by Craig Newman published on October 7, 2009 10:22 AM.

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