Evidence of 'shattered moon' found inside rings of Saturn

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The largest propeller seen here is noted in the white dashed box, and it indicates the presence of a 150-meter (490-foot) moonlet.
Image: NASA.

Scientists say that floating inside Saturn's rings are pieces of what they believe to be a "shattered moon," according to images captured by NASA's spacecraft Cassini–Huygens.

The scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder looked at the images which were captured in 2004, and found what they call "moonlets" or large pieces ranging from the size of a stadium to a semi truck, of what they say are the remains of a large moon which was likely destroyed when a comet or asteroid slammed into it.

"This is the first evidence of a moonlet belt in any of Saturn's rings. We have firmly established these moonlets exist in a relatively narrow region of the "A" ring, and the evidence indicates they are remnants of a larger moon that was shattered by a meteoroid or comet," said one of the researchers, Miodrag Sremcevic.

The Cassini spacecraft captures eight new propeller-like features within Saturn's A ring in what may be the propeller "hot zone" of Saturn's rings. Propeller features form around small moonlets that are not massive enough to clear out ring material, but are still able to pull smaller ring particles into a shape reminiscent of an airplane propeller. Scientists believe that propellers represent moonlet wakes, which are denser than the surrounding ring material and appear bright in the images. The length of the belt in which the moonlets were discovered is almost 2,000 miles long.

Scientists estimate that the size of the moon was relative to the size of Pan, the innermost moon of Saturn. It only measures 20 miles wide at its widest point.