"Pinball" Collisions Seen in Saturn Ring

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(Related photo: "Monster 'Hurricane' Spotted on Saturn" [November 13, 2006].)

"We could follow these for months as S 6 worked its way around the F ring," Murray said.

All of that dust also allowed the scientists to spot gravitational perturbations caused by other hidden moonlets, Murray said.

"There are still plenty of things we need to understand about the F ring," he said.

"However, we now think that we understand the basic processes that give rise to the various structures that we see."

The study appears tomorrow in the journal Nature.

(See photos of Saturn.)

Planet-Birth Insight

Other scientists are pleased with the finding.

Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini imaging team, was not directly involved in the new study.

"It demonstrates what's great about being in orbit and having the leisure to come back for a second look," Porco said in an email.

Larry Esposito is a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who also was not involved in the study. He added by email that the new find helps scientists understand what happens in planet-forming disks around young stars.

"The processes occurring today in Saturn's F ring are like those that created the Earth and other planets."

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