Saturn's new ring.

An artist's conception of a newly discovered and nearly invisible ring around Saturn -- the largest of the giant planet's many rings that scientists found using by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. ( NASA)

By Frank James

Scientists have discovered Saturn's largest ring to date, a ring of dust and ice difficult to see with visible light telescopes but detected using the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared camera.

According to a NASA press release:

The new belt lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system, with an orbit tilted 27 degrees from the main ring plane. The bulk of its material starts about six million kilometers (3.7 million miles) away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometers (7.4 million miles). One of Saturn's farthest moons, Phoebe, circles within the newfound ring, and is likely the source of its material.

An artist's rendition makes Saturn appear as a tiny dot with the band an ethereal ring relatively far from the planet.

Another excerpt from the press release:

"This is one supersized ring," said Anne Verbiscer, an astronomer at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. "If you could see the ring, it would span the width of two full moons' worth of sky, one on either side of Saturn." Verbiscer; Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland, College Park; and Michael Skrutskie, of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, are authors of a paper about the discovery to be published online tomorrow by the journal Nature.

"Two full moons' worth of sky." That's a monster ring, indeed.

Here's the abstract for the article in Nature in which the scientists fully report their discovery. To read the entire thing, you need to be a subscriber or purchase access to the article.

categories: Science

2:41 - October 7, 2009