Saturn's rings hiding moons

Written by PTI | Washington | Updated: Mar 1 2013, 00:07am hrs
Saturn, which already harbours a huge reserve of 62 moons, may be hiding more such natural satellites embedded inside the icy rings of the planet.

Saturn, like Jupiter, is orbited by a large extended family of moons - ranging in size from the gigantic 5150km-wide Titan, wrapped in thick clouds, to the barely 3.2km-wide Methone, smooth as a river rock.

However, there are even more moons in the ringed planet's retinue, tiny worlds embedded inside the icy rings themselves, the 'Discovery News' reported.

Even with the Cassini spacecraft they are nearly impossible to see until they give themselves away with their shining "propellers."

The image of the planet produced by the spacecraft allows scientists to view across 14484 km of Saturn's A ring, the outermost of the main ring structures, with Saturn itself well off frame to the left.

Inside one of the darker segments of the rings, are two short, bright streaks - one pointing up, one pointing down.

The Cassini science team calls it a "propeller," a clumping of ring particles in front of and behind a tiny moonlet located between the two "blades."

The moonlet is too small to be resolved directly - it is less than half a mile across - but its gravity is still strong enough to affect the tiny particles that comprise Saturn's rings.

Made mostly of water ice, the more the particles gather together the more they tend to reflect sunlight - highlighting the moonlet's location for Cassini.

Depending on the angle of sunlight, propellers can also appear darker than the surrounding rings.