Saturn's Got a Brand New Ring: Local Astronomers

The ring is about four times the size of a full moon

By Asha Beh
|  Sunday, Oct 25, 2009  |  Updated 10:00 AM EDT
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Saturn's Got a Brand New Ring: Local Astronomers

NASA

One of a series, this image of Saturn was taken when the planet's rings were at their maximum tilt of 27 degrees toward Earth.

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Three astronomers -- two from the University of Virginia and one from the University of Maryland -- have found a new ring around the planet Saturn.

It's also apparently the largest of Saturn's rings. The ring is so large, one of the scientists said, that if we could look up and see it, it would occupy a place in the sky four times the size of the full moon, the Washington Post reported.

The announcement of the discovery was published online by Nature, the international weekly journal of science, on Oct. 7 and made by UVA's Anne J. Verbiscer and Michael F. Skrutskie and UMD's Douglas P. Hamilton.

Galileo, through his telescope, was the one who first discovered the inner ring structure of the popular planet.

The new ring, however, cannot be seen through an optical telescope, according to astronomers. Instead, Verbiscer, Skrutskie and Hamilton -- who originally met as graduate students at Cornell University -- found the tiny, dark-particled ring through the orbiting Spitzer space telescope via infrared radiation detection equipment.

The discovery helped scientists clear up two standing questions they had as well.  According to the Post:

It supports the idea that planetary rings -- planets other than Saturn have them -- might also be found far from planets as well as close to them.

It also gives an idea of why one of Saturn's moons, Iapetus, has both bright and dark faces. Dark particles from the newfound ring, apparently pepper one face "like bugs on a windshield," Hamilton said. This had been the theory. Now, he said, "we have hard evidence."

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