Never Before Seen: New Moon Forming in Saturn’s Rings

New Moon forming in Saturn's rings

For the first time ever, scientists are witnessing the formation of a new moon as it forms within Saturn’s outer rings.  According to a recent report, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft recently discovered this icy formation, currently being called “Peggy,” on April 15th as it disturbed the smooth lines of the ring system.  But will it grow any larger, leave the ring system, or will it fizzle out and break apart?

The lead author on this report, Carl Murray, says that “we have not seen anything like this before. 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.”

Saturn's new moonThe first indication that this was the formation of a new moon was a bright disturbance in the outer ring.  This disturbance was a cluster of icy matter that clumped together forming a bright arc 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) long and 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide.  Although it’s not expected to grow any larger it does give insight into the formation of moons, as well as, the formation of planets in our own solar system.  It could explain Earth’s own formation and its subsequent movement away from the Sun.

The theory is that Saturn’s icy moons formed within the ring system long ago, slowly moving outward, and then collecting with other moons as they left.   This suggests that Saturn’s ring system was much more massive at one time; but, as these moon’s formed within the rings they depleted the system’s supply of debris, collecting together to form the objects we know today.

In 2016, Cassini will move closer to Saturn’s A ring and provide a closer look at Peggy and how it is forming.

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