Washington, March 20 (ANI): An image taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has indicated that Jupiter may have a new ring that was created by a smash between its moons.
According to a report in New Scientist, the possible ring appears as a faint streak near Jupiter's moon Himalia in the image.
The telescopic camera aboard the Pluto-bound probe snapped the ring in September 2006 as the craft was closing in on Jupiter in the lead-up to a close encounter with the planet the following February.
"We were taking an image of Himalia to test the instrument. It was completely unexpected that something else was there," said Andy Cheng of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, chief scientist for the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which took the pictures.
It is unclear if the new ring reaches all the way around the planet.
"No one knows when it formed, but crucially, the Galileo spacecraft didn't spot it before the end of its mission to Jupiter in 2003," said Cheng.
"If we're right that it was very recent, it might not have existed before then," he said.
Because the structure appears so close to Himalia, it may be the result of an impact that blasted material off the 170-kilometre-wide moon, suggested Cheng and colleagues in a study presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas, earlier this month.
If so, it must be relatively new, because impact debris would quickly spread out and become invisible.
One of Jupiter's moons, the diminutive 4-kilometre-wide S/2000 J 11, went missing after its discovery in 2000 and could have crashed into Himalia, destroying itself in the process, suggested the team.
The possible collision would be the third in a series of recent impacts seen in space.
A comet or asteroid slammed into Jupiter last year and a comet-like object discovered in the asteroid belt in January is probably a cloud of debris from a recent collision between two asteroids.
The New Horizons fly-by found that Jupiter has fewer moons with a diameter less than 16 kilometres than expected.
Researchers have previously suggested that small moons have been eroded away by micrometeorite impacts.
"But perhaps larger collisions also play a role," Cheng said.
"Our view of the solar system has changed. It's not a static place where things stay the same for ever and ever," Cheng said. (ANI)