TECH
11/12/2013 11:06 GMT | Updated 11/12/2013 11:06 GMT

Saturn's Rings May Have Just Given Birth To A New Moon

Saturn might be giving birth to a new moon.

The ringed planet already has at least 150 moons and satellites of various sizes, ranging from the massive world of Titan (which is larger than Mercury) to many tiny moons less than 10km across.

But now we may have to add one more to their ranks. New Scientist reports on a "disturbance" spotted by Carl Murray of Queen Mary University which appears to show a new object creating ripples in one of the planet's rings, and emerging as a moon.

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Above: 'Peggy' can be seen as a small smudge at the bottom of the inner 'A' ring

The study, based on photos taken by Nasa's Cassini spacecraft, appears to have found a distortion in the outermost ring of the planet which could be material clumping together into an object large enough to hold together under its own gravity.

It has been thought for some time that the outer rings of Saturn could function as "moon factories", but no one had seen the process in action.

Murray told the American Geophysical Union this week that by studying 107 images of the object taken since 2012, it's possible to see a smudge made by a small new moon. Unfortunately it's too tiny to see directly - it would be just 1km across, and has now been lost - either destroyed, or in orbit around the planet.

The distortion-moon-thing has been named Peggy after Murray's mother, whose 80th birthday coincided with the day that he found the object.

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