Apr 17, 2014 I Tom Head

Is Saturn Pregnant?

Ice—about a half mile of it—has begun to gather on the edge of one of Saturn's rings. And if astronomers are right about the way Saturn's 62 existing moons have formed, we may be looking at a 63rd. This would tie Jupiter's record for the largest number of moons in our solar system.

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The bright anomaly shown here on the lower edge of Saturn's rings, nicknamed Peggy, may become the planet's 63rd moon. Photo: Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.


Sir Brian Cox, a physicist at the University of Manchester and host of the BBC's Wonders of the Solar System, explains Saturn's ring system here:


You'll note Cox's remark to the effect that when ice clusters form around Saturn, they often collide with other clusters and break apart. But if this particular cluster doesn't, and if it breaks free from the ring and achieves an independent orbit, Peggy—named (tentatively, at least) after its discoverer's mother-in-law—is likely to orbit the planet for billions of years. We'll have a better look in late 2016, as NASA's Cassini probe will be in the neighborhood by that point.

Tom Head

Tom Head is an author or coauthor of 29 nonfiction books, columnist, scriptwriter, research paralegal, occasional hellraiser, and proud Jackson native. His book Possessions and Exorcisms (Fact or Fiction?) covers the recent demand for exorcists over the past 30 years and demonic possession.

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