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NASA's Cassini may have detected birth of new moon of Saturn

Cassini orbiting Saturn
Cassini orbiting Saturn
Photo by NASA/Getty Images

NASA reported on Monday that the Cassini space probe may have witnessed the birth of a new moon of Saturn. The findings were the result of observations taken of Saturn’s outer most ring on April 15, 2013. The observation provides some insight as to how some of Saturn’s icy moons were formed in the first place, soon after the solar system was formed.

NASA scientists have postulated the existence of the new moon, now informally known as Peggy, because of disturbances created in the outer ring system. The disturbances were likely created by a hitherto unknown object, it is suggested. The new moon is too small to actually image directly, however, measuring perhaps a kilometer across. It may even be falling apart due to Saturn’s gravitational forces.

Scientists theorize that Peggy is an ice moon that formed out of the material in Saturn’s rings and is now moving slowly away from the planet. They suspect that in eons past, the rings of Saturn were much bigger, but then some of them coalesced to form some of the larger moons such as Titan and Enceladus, depleting the rings as they were created and moved away from the planet. Indeed a similar process likely created the planets of the Solar System, including Earth, billions of years ago.

Cassini, launched in 1997, went into orbit around Saturn in 2004 and has been studying that planet, its rings, and system of moons ever since. Saturn has proven to be a richly diverse system. It includes the ice moon of Enceladus, with its plume and possible subsurface ocean and Titan with its hydrocarbon lakes and streams. Cassini included the European Space Agency's Huygens probe which landed on Titan and provided spectacular images of a alien world. Cassini’s mission is scheduled to continue through at least 2017.