Saturn might be having a menopause baby, just in time for Mother’s Day. Pictures taken last April have been published by NASA this week, and they show an unusual growth on the edge of one of Saturn’s rings. Usually when you find a lump that’s 6 miles wide, you update your will. But in the case of Saturn, which already has 62 moons (53 that are known, 9 that are candidates), it just means you continue to lose your figure.
The Cassini spacecraft was launched in the 90s and has spent the last ten years orbiting Saturn. It’s produced some amazing photos (like the one above) and its latest reveals a bright spot on the outer A ring, that seems to be either breaking off from the planet, or falling apart.
“We have not seen anything like this before,” said Carl Murray of Queen Mary University of London. “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.”
All of Saturn’s moons are believed to be formed from the rings of ice and space dust that circle the planet. But the materials to create natural satellites is not inexhaustible, and if this 63rd formation really is a new moon, it may be Saturn’s last.
“The theory holds that Saturn long ago had a much more massive ring system capable of giving birth to larger moons,” Murray said. “As the moons formed near the edge, they depleted the rings and evolved, so the ones that formed earliest are the largest and the farthest out.”
The newest addition to the Saturn family has not been given a formal name, as they’re not quite sure it’s really going to be born. Informally, they’re calling it “Peggy.” Saturn is 4.5 billion years old. The father is unknown. (According to paternity expert Maury Povich, Jupiter is NOT the father.)