Scientists working with images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have discovered strange
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half-mile-sized (kilometer-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 story of the curious behavior of the F ring. As said Carl Murray, a Cassini imaging team member based at Queen Mary University of London, England he 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 they ever thought. These findings show 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. Scientists have known that relatively large objects like Prometheus (as long as 92 miles, or 148 kilometers, across) can create channels, ripples and snowballs in the F ring. But scientists didn’t know what happened to these snowballs after they were created. Some were surely broken up by collisions or tidal forces in their orbit around Saturn, but now scientists have evidence that some of the smaller ones survive, and their differing orbits mean they go on to strike through the F ring on their own. These 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 typically 20 to 110 miles (40 to 180 kilometers) long. Murray’s group happened to see a tiny trail in an image from Jan. 30, 2009 and tracked it over eight hours. The long footage confirmed the small object originated in the F ring, so they went back through the Cassini image catalog to see if the phenomenon was frequent.