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Cassini's Images from First Orbit Reviewed, Saturn's Moons Could Be Younger Than Previously Thought

Dec 12, 2016 04:28 AM EST
Voyager 1 Passing Saturn
Saturn's moons may be traveling from their parent planet faster than expected. This could mean that the moons are also younger than previously thought.
(Photo : NASA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Cassini is preparing for its third orbit to Saturn's ring and has already sent images from its first one. Aside from the stunning images sent back by the NASA spacecraft, a new study suggests that the moons near Saturn's ring could be younger than previously thought and the data collected by the spacecraft may help confirm the said theory.

The NASA Cassini spacecraft is currently completing 20 orbit dives between Saturn's rings as part of its mission before its "death dive" in 2017. The orbits are expected to produce significant data and never-before-seen images of the planet and its moons. To make the mission more interesting, a new study says some of the planet's moons are younger than previously thought and Cassini's orbit may help gather more data to prove it.

"All of these Cassini mission measurements are changing our view of the Saturnian system, as it turns out old theories upside down," Radwan Tajeddine, research associate in astronomy from Cornell University said in a press release. "It takes one good spacecraft to tell us how wrong we were in the past."

A team from Paris Observatory released a new study that presents the measurements that could prove that Saturn's moons are younger than previously thought. The team measured the planet's rigidity called "Saturn's Love number" in order to arrive at their conclusion. Based on the study, most of the moons move away from their parent planet in a faster way that exceeds the expected rate.

In order to formally study the planet's Love number, researchers compared old images of the region to the photographs taken by Cassini. The study was focused on Saturn's four moonlets or tiny moons and their orbits.

"By monitoring these disturbances, we managed to obtain the first measurement of Saturn's Love number and distinguish it from the planet's dissipation factor," Tajeddine said in the same press release. "The moons are migrating faster than expected."

If the moons are traveling faster, this could mean that their projected age should be younger as well. If Saturn formed 4.5 billion years ago, then the moons would have moved further away than expected and should be younger than initially thought.

The experts themselves agree that in order to nullify or confirm the theory, an innovative spacecraft is vital. NASA Cassini will play a huge role in further understanding the planet and its moons as it continues to dive into Saturn's rings.


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