Tiny Moon Makes Waves In Saturn's Rings

A tiny moonorbiting Saturn has been caught creating ripples in the trademark ringsaroundthe gas giant planet in new photos from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

The newSaturn moon photos show Daphnis, a diminutive satellite just5 miles (8 km)wide. But Daphnis is still large enough that its gravitational pull candisruptnearby ring material as it circles Saturn.

Saturn'srings are made of ice and dirt ranging in from small particles toboulders andcountless larger objects as big as houses and even small towns. Therings'total diameter is about 175,000 miles (282,000 km), butthey're just overhalf a mile (1 km) thick. In the new photos, shallow scallopedwavespropagate along the edges of the Keeler Gap ? a rift in Saturn's outerA ringabout 26 miles wide (42 km) that is home to Daphnis.The waves have both vertical and horizontal components because the moonmovesin inclined orbit. 

The newphotos are the closest ever captured of Daphnis, which was discoveredin 2005. Itorbits Saturn at a distance of about 84,820 miles (136,505 km) from theplanet's center. [Photosof Saturn moons]

Daphnis wasthe second moon discovered to fly within the Saturn'srings. The first was Pan, which is 16 miles (25 km) acrossand orbits inSaturn's Encke Gap, another break in the planet's ring system.

To date,astronomers have discovered more than 60 Saturn moons, though only 53of themhave been named, according to a NASA database.

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Contributing Writer

Zoe Macintosh is a science writer who covered human spaceflight, astronomy and science for Space.com in 2010. She also covered general science for Space.com's sister site Live Science. Zoe studied English literature and physics at Smith College, where she also wrote for the Smith Sophian. Her work has also appeared in the National Association of Science Writers website.