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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 5 August, 2020

NASA spots meteors crashing into Saturn's rings for first time

Saturn is now the only place besides Earth, the moon and Jupiter where scientists have been able to observe meteor impacts as they occur.

Meteors crash into Saturn's rings. Look really, really closely.
Meteors crash into Saturn's rings. Look really, really closely.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Cornell

A NASA PROBE has for the first time found direct evidence of meteors crashing into the rings of Saturn.

Up until now, the only places where meteor impacts had been observed as they happened were Earth, the moon and Jupiter.

Some of the meteoroids spotted by NASA’s Cassini probe were tiny, measuring just half an inch across, while others were several metres in size. NASA researchers say that being able to study these meteor crashes will help scientists understand how different plant systems in the solar system formed.

NASA said it took scientists years to make out the marks and tracks which were left by nine meteoroids between 2005 and 2012.

“We knew these little impacts were constantly occurring, but we didn’t know how big or how frequent they might be,” said Matt Tiscareno, the lead author of the paper on the meteors which was published in Science.

An equinox in the summer of 2009 made it easier for researchers to see the debris left by meteoroid impacts.

“The sunlight shining… on to the rings at the Saturnian equinox acted like an anti-cloaking device, so these usually invisible features became plain to see,” said Tiscareno.

Tiscareno and the team of researchers believe that meteoroids probably break up into smaller pieces once they crash into the rings, and then enter into orbit around Saturn.

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