Saturn may be surrounded by undiscovered rings

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Washington, Feb 25 (UNI) Saturn may be surrounded by undiscovered, and almost invisible partial rings, scientists claim.

The scientists have detected two peculiar breaks in the constant rain of high energy electrons that bombard Cassini when near Saturn.

The discovery was made using Cassini's Low Energy Magnetospheric Measurement System. The gaping holes fall along the orbits of two newly discovered moons, Methone and Anthe, the Science Daily reported.

''These observations tell us that even Saturn's smallest moons could be a source of dust in the Saturnian system,'' said Elias Roussos, the paper's lead author from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany.

However, the gaps Cassini saw at Methone and Anthe are so wide -- about 1,000 to 3,000 kilometers across -- that they cannot be explained solely by the presence of such tiny moons. Instead, the measurements may indicate that the two moons are losing dust from their surface, building up one or more arcs of material along their orbits. Each ring arc is expected to be a few thousand kilometers wide and to comprise large dust grains or dust clumps.

''What's odd is that these inferred ring arcs still remain undetected in Cassini images, while the rings at Janus, Epimetheus and Pallene orbits, thought to form under the same process, are visible,'' said Roussos.

''This means the dust grains making up these two different classes of rings have different characteristics and sizes. However the reason behind this difference is a mystery.'' The findings of the team are published in journal Icarus.

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