Saturn May Have Just Spawned A New Moon

New images acquired by Cassini show a bright clump orbiting Saturn at the outermost edge of its outer ring. Astronomers say it could be a brand new moon in the process of being born.

The images show a 745-mile-long (1,200 km) and 6-mile-wide (10 km) arc of icy material traveling along the edge of the A ring. The arc may be the result of gravitational perturbations caused by an unseen embedded object about a half-mile wide — possibly a miniature moon in the process of being formed.

"We have not seen anything like this before," said Carl Murray of Queen Mary University in London, lead author of the paper. "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."

Jason Major from Universe Today explains more:

The half-mile-wide object has been unofficially named "Peggy," after lead author Murray's mother-in-law (whose 80th birthday it was on the day he was studying the Cassini NAC images.) Murray first announced the findings on December 10th, 2013 at the AGU 13 meeting in San Francisco.

According to the team's paper, Peggy's effects on the A ring has been visible to Cassini since May 2012.

Eventually Peggy may coalesce into a slightly larger moon and move outward, establishing its own orbital path around Saturn. This is how many of Saturn's other moons are thought to have formed much further back in the planet's history. Now, its rings having been depleted of moon-stuff, can only create tiny objects like Peggy.

While it is possible that the bright perturbation is the result of an object's breakup rather than formation, researchers are still looking forward to finding out more about its evolution.

Read more at Universe Today.

Image: NASA/Cassini.