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Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 20 December, 2014

A NASA spacecraft has witnessed the birth of a ‘new moon’ in the rings of Saturn

“We have not seen anything like this before,” said one scientist.

The moon is visible at the outer edge of Saturn's A ring in this image from the spacecraft.
The moon is visible at the outer edge of Saturn's A ring in this image from the spacecraft.
Image: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA SCIENTISTS SAY they have discovered what could be the birth of a new moon in the rings of Saturn.

A spacecraft orbiting the planet spotted a small, icy object being formed within the rings which would be Saturn’s 63rd moon if confirmed.

The object, which has been informally named ‘Peggy’ is too small to be seen in images so far, but a camera on board the NASA spacecraft spotted the bright light and unusual texture of the object and took some rough photographs.

“We have not seen anything like this before,” said Carl Murray of Queen University of London, who wrote the report published today into the new moon.

“We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right”.

Scientists were drawn to the object when they noticed a bump at the edge of the ring, and saw that it was significantly brighter than everything else around it.

The new moon, if that’s what it is, is not expected to grow any larger – and scientists say it may even be falling apart.

They estimate that Peggy is no more than about half a kilometre in diamter and is made primarily of ice, as many of Saturn’s moons are.

“Witnessing the possibly birth of a tiny moon is an exciting, unexpected event,” said Linda Spolker of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Spolker said that the NASA spacecraft will be closer to the outer edge of the Saturn ring in late 2016 which will provide an opportunity to study Peggy in more detail and perhaps even photograph it.

NASA said that the new object may also provide clues to how all the rest of Saturn’s moons were formed.

Read: Look up! The International Space Station is in our skies until 22 April > 

Read: NASA is asking you to vote on what the next spacesuit looks like > 

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