NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn, which could may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known moons.
Images taken with Cassini's narrow angle camera on April 15, 2013 show disturbances at the very edge of Saturn's A ring – the outermost of the planet's large, bright rings.
One of these disturbances is an arc about 20 percent brighter than its surroundings, 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) long and 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide.
Scientists also found unusual protuberances in the usually smooth profile at the ring's edge. Scientists believe the arc and protuberances are caused by the gravitational effects of a nearby object.
The object is not expected to grow any larger, and may even be falling apart. But the process of its formation and outward movement aids in our understanding of how Saturn's icy moons, including the cloud-wrapped Titan and ocean-holding Enceladus, may have formed in more massive rings long ago.
It also provides insight into how Earth and other planets in our solar system may have formed and migrated away from our star, the sun.
The object, informally named Peggy, is too small to see in images so far. Scientists estimate it is probably no more than about a half mile in diameter.
The details of the observations have been published online in the journal Icarus.