Subsurface oceans, asteroids with rings and new moons are all on scientists' radar lately.
So what does all of this mean for us Earthlings? It means we didn’t know our universal backyard as well as we thought we did.
Rings in Space
Scientists didn’t expect to find an asteroid with rings in its orbit, but they found such an asteroid between Saturn and Uranus. The scientists said that this asteroid is the first non-planetary object found to have its own ring system.
Space.com said that the rings – a 2-mile-wide (3 km) ring on the outside of the asteroid with a 4-mile wide (7 km) ring closer to the planet - belong to the asteroid Chariklo and were probably formed after a collision peppered debris around the asteroid. The rings also reveal a new possibility; the presence of a still-undiscovered moon around the asteroid. The moon is probably keeping the rings stable, according to the researchers.
“We weren’t looking for a ring and didn’t think small bodies like Chariklo had them at all, so the discovery – and the amazing amount of detail we saw in the system – came as a complete surprise!” said study leader Felipe Braga-Ribas of the National Observatory in Brazil in a statement. “[The rings] would be two spectacular sharp and really bright rings, crossing all the sky,” he said. “They would be noticeably close as they are about 1/1,000 of the moon’s distance from us.” Even though Chariklo has rings, the asteroid itself might not be a particular stand-out in the solar system after all. “Rings may be a much more common property than we thought,” said Braga-Ribas.
Birth of a New Moon
The birth of a moon may have been witnessed by astronomers, states I F*cking Love Science. The moon is a small icy body found within in the rings of Saturn. Watching the birth of a celestial body is incredible as it is, but the event is even more special seeing how the moon is probably Saturn’s last natural satellite. The moon could help scientists learn more about the formation of Saturn’s multiple moons including Enceladus – a moon with a subterranean ocean – and Titan, a moon wrapped in clouds.
Seeing the moon’s birth was an accident. A narrow angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made a mistake and recorded disturbances at the edge of Saturn’s most outermost ring, known as the A ring. One of the disturbances recorded was an arc that was 1,200 km long, 10 km wide and about 20 percent brighter than the area around it. There were also “unusual protuberances” in the profile of the ring’s edge. Generally, the ring’s edge is smooth, but the protuberances are thought to have been caused by the gravitational effects of a close object.
Carl Murray from Queen Mary University of London discussed the discovery in a news release. “We have not seen anything like this before,” he said. “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.”
The new moon is too small to be seen in images, but they think the moon, nicknamed Peggy after Murray’s mother-in-law, won’t be getting any bigger. In fact, they think Peggy is dying. The researchers are under the impression that Saturn’s rings have lost much of its girth due to the formation of some of its older moons. “The theory holds that Saturn long ago had a much more massive ring system capable of giving birth to larger moons,” said Murray. “As the moons formed near the edge, they depleted the rings and evolved, so the ones that formed the earliest are the largest and the farthest out.”
Enceladus isn’t the only body that’s got a recently-discovered ocean. Pluto might also have an ocean hidden beneath its surface. I F*cking Love Science focuses on a theory made by Dr. Amy Barr of Brown University and Professor Geoffrey Collins of Wheaton College.
Their theory states that an ocean is responsible for the relationship between Pluto and its satellite Charon. Originailly, it was thought that Charon was formed after a large object hit Pluto, similar to how our moon was created by a Mars-sized object hitting Earth. The heat from the event probably melted Pluto’s insides, and Barr and Collins contend that the hidden ocean stayed around for billions of years. It could even be around right now.
Planets and moons become tidally locked, but the scientists argue that Pluto has taken the relationship one step further by keeping the same face to each other. This type of orbit is a called a dual synchronous state. Eventually, the moon and Earth will get to this state, but for now, Pluto and Charon are the only objects in our solar system to do so.