September 21, 2006Saturn really is the "lord of the rings."
A new ring, marked here by a cross, has been found around the planet, adding to an already spectacularand crowdedring system full of reflective chunks of ice. (Related photo: New View of Saturn's Blues [February 2005].)
NASA's Cassini spacecraft spotted the faint ring on September 17 when the sun passed behind Saturn, providing a bright backlight for the planet's ring system. Known as a solar occultation, the event was unusual because it lasted 12 hours instead of the usual one.
The new ring crosses the orbits of Saturn's moons Janus and Epimetheus. Though scientists had predicted that meteorites striking the surface of these moons would kick dust and debris into Saturn's orbit, the researchers were surprised to find the rubble formed into a well-defined ring.
Cassini also captured images of the moon Enceladus sweeping through Saturn's outermost ringthe large, diffuse E ringand extending wispy, fingerlike projections.
"Both the new ring and the unexpected structures in the E ring should provide us with important insights into how moons can both release small particles and sculpt their local environments," Matt Hedman, a research associate at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said in a press statement.
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