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Queen Mary scientists working with images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have discovered strange half-mile-sized objects punching through parts of Saturn's F ring, leaving glittering trails behind them. These trails in the rings, which scientists are calling 'mini-jets', fill in a missing link in our understanding of the curious behavior of the F ring. The results were presented April 24 at the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna, Austria.
The small objects appear to collide with the F ring at gentle speeds -- something on the order of about 4 mph (2 meters per second). The collisions drag glittering ice particles out of the F ring with them, leaving a trail 20 to 110 miles (40 to 180 kilometers) long. Professor Murray commented: "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. These findings show us that the F ring region is like a bustling zoo of objects from a half mile to moons like Prometheus a hundred miles in size, creating a spectacular show," he added.
In some cases, the objects traveled in packs, creating mini-jets that looked quite exotic, like the barb of a harpoon. Other new images show grand views of the entire F ring, showing the swirls and eddies that ripple around the ring from all the different kinds of objects moving through and around it.