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<Spitzer Discovers Saturns Largest Ring ⁄ >




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NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered an enormous and previously unknown infrared ring around Saturn.

"This is one supersized ring," says Anne Verbiscer, an astronomer at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. "If you could see the ring in the night sky, it would span the width of two full Moons."

Verbiscer is co-author of a paper about the discovery to be published online tomorrow by the journal Nature. The other authors are Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland and Michael Skrutskie of the University of Virginia.

The new belt lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system, with an orbit tilted 27 degrees from the main ring plane. The bulk of its material starts about six million kilometers (3.7 million miles) away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometers (7.4 million miles). It would take about one billion Earths stacked together to fill the voluminous ring. One of Saturn's farthest moons, Phoebe, circles within the newfound ring, and is likely the source of its material.



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