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The discovery comes from detailed photos taken of the Saturn system by NASA's Cassini orbiter. In these images, researchers spotted strange objects about a half-mile (kilometer) wide tearing through Saturn's F ring, the thin outermost discrete ring around the planet.
As they pass through the ring, these interlopers drag glittering ice particles out with them, creating visible trails of debris scientists are calling "mini jets."
"I think the F ring is Saturn's weirdest ring, and these latest Cassini results go to show how the F ring is even more dynamic than we ever thought," Carl Murray, a Cassini imaging team member based at London's Queen Mary University, said in a statement. "These findings show us that the F ring region is like a bustling zoo of objects from a half mile in size to moons like Prometheus a hundred miles in size, creating a spectacular show."
The F ring is held in check by two tiny moons, Prometheus and Pandora, which weave inside and outside the outer ring. Sometimes these moons perturb the ring, creating channels and snowballs. Now scientists think that some of these snowballs survive to become the weird objects punching new holes in the ring.
The objects appear to collide with the ring at mild speeds of about 4 mph (6.4 kph), but can leave relatively long trails extending between 20 to 110 miles long (40 to 180 kilometers).