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Science Briefing

Saturn's biggest ring discovered

October 10, 2009|Times Staff and Wire Reports

The Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered the biggest but never-before-seen ring around the planet Saturn, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced late Tuesday.

JPL spokeswoman Whitney Clavin said the ring, a thin array of ice and dust particles, is very diffuse and doesn't reflect much visible light but the infrared Spitzer telescope was able to detect it. Although the ring dust is very cold -- minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit -- it shines with thermal radiation.

The ring is so huge that it would take 1 billion Earths to fill it, JPL said. Saturn's outer moon Phoebe orbits within the ring and is believed to be the source of the material.

The Spitzer telescope is 66 million miles from Earth in orbit around the sun.

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