Latest images brought back by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have revealed what appears to be the moment of birth of Saturn’s new moon.
Saturn is one of the planets with the most moons in the Solar System. This isn’t surprising at all, especially considering that this gas giant has a huge reservoir from which to create its moons: its own rings. In fact, NASA had just observed earlier this week what could perhaps be the exact instant that this “reservoir” was tapped, giving birth to an entirely new natural satellite.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft recorded an image of a small object just at the edge of one of Saturn’s rings. The phenomenon was technically a disturbance in the gas giant’s A ring, where an object broke out of its normal orbit. “Peggy”, as the object was informally named, apparently looked as if it was moving out of the ring to orbit Saturn as a new natural satellite.
If you think you’re going to miss the object at first glance without emphasizing white circles and pointers, then you’re most likely right. It looks small at the image given by Cassini, and would most likely still look small even when taken up close. Researchers estimate that it would probably be no longer than about half a mile in diameter.
Because of its tiny size, and due to all other random variables involved (gravity, nearby obstacles, etc.), they anticipate that this new moon would not last very long. In fact, they speculate that it’s actually already falling apart, and a relatively powerful collision with another foreign object might smack it down to bits.
Regardless, this new image provides astronomers with vital evidence to one of the theories for the formation of Saturn’s moons. Researchers now consider it a likely possibility that certain icy moons like Enceladus might have been formed the same way. Observing the phenomenon again though might not happen for a very long time, and perhaps it never will, as Saturn’s ring ‘reservoir’ no longer holds enough raw materials to form another significantly large moon.