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Tiny moons lurk in Saturn`s rings

Last Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 15:56

Washington: Tiny moons that can barely be seen hide inside Saturn`s majestic rings, according to researchers.

Like Jupiter, Saturn is orbited by a large number of moons - 62, at last count - ranging in size from the gigantic 3,200-mile-wide Titan, wrapped in thick clouds, to the barely 2-mile-wide Methone, smooth as a river rock.

But now scientists say there are even more moons in the ringed planet`s retinue - tiny worlds embedded inside the icy rings themselves - according to Discovery News.

Even with the Cassini spacecraft they are nearly impossible to see... until they give themselves away with their shining "propellers."

A "propeller," is a clumping of ring particles in front of and behind a tiny moonlet located between the two "blades," according to the Cassini scientists.

The moonlet is too small to be resolved directly - it`s less than half a mile across - but its gravity is still strong enough to affect the tiny particles that comprise Saturn`s rings.

Made mostly of water ice, the more the particles gather together the more they tend to reflect sunlight - highlighting the moonlet`s location for Cassini.

Depending on the angle of sunlight, propellers can also appear darker than the surrounding rings.

In a new image released by the Discovery News, short, bright streaks of a propeller show the location of a mini-moon.

This particular propeller is nicknamed "Bleriot," after the French aviator who made the first airplane flight across the English Channel in 1909.

First observed by Cassini in 2005 Bleriot has been repeatedly revisited, most recently in this observation from Nov. 11, 2012.

By observing propellers over time researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how they move and evolve, and what their effects are on the ring particles around them.


First Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 15:56
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