NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted the largest, but never-before-seen ring around the planet Saturn, scientists have said.
“This is one super-sized ring,” said Anne Verbiscer, an astronomer at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville late Tuesday.
“If you could see the ring, it would span the width of two full moons’ worth of sky, one on either side of Saturn,” she added.
According to the research team, the ring itself is tenuous, made up of a thin array of ice and dust particles kicked off Saturn’s moon Phoebe by small impacts.
This dust then migrates towards the planet where it is picked up by another Saturnian moon, Iapetus, scientists say.
“Astronomers have long suspected that there is a connection between Saturn’s outer moon Phoebe and the dark material on Iapetus,” said Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland.
“This new ring provides convincing evidence of that relationship,” he went on to say.
The bulk of the ring material starts about six million kilometers (3.7 million miles) away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometers (7.4 million miles).