22 December 2005

Presto! New Rings & Moons

Photo Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)

Hot off the presses:

To the surprise of astronomers, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed a pair of new rings around the distant planet Uranus. The largest is twice the diameter of the planet's previously known rings. The new rings are so far away that they are being called Uranus's "second ring system."

In addition, Hubble has spied two small satellites, one sharing its orbit with one of the newly discovered rings. Even more surprisingly, precise analysis of the data reveals that the orbits of Uranus's family of inner moons have changed significantly in the last decade. Collectively, these new discoveries mean that Uranus has a densely packed, rapidly changing, and possibly unstable dynamical system of orbiting bodies. "The new discoveries dramatically demonstrate that Uranus has a youthful and dynamic system of rings and moons," says Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute. "Until now nobody had a clue the rings were there, we had no right to expect them."


Read the full press release from Hubble here.

Sweet!

Drop by the BA Blog to catch Phil Plait's take on the news.

*Addendum (12/23): There was a minor error in the above entry, which Phil corrected in this subsequent addition.

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