Scientists discover Saturn's 60th moon
NASA scientists studying images sent back from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft have discovered the 60th moon orbiting the ringed planet Saturn. And, for now at least, they've named it Frank.
The two-kilometre-wide moon made up of mostly rock and ice was discovered orbiting Saturn near the moons Methone and Pollene after scientists analyzed images the orbiting space probe had taken on May 30 of this year.
Cassini scientists have given the moon the name "Frank" until a more appropriate name is found, NASA said. If history is any indication, it's a moniker unlikely to stick: most of the moons in our solar system are named after figures in Greek and Roman mythology.
Naming of new planets falls to the International Astronomical Union, the same group that demoted Pluto from its status as a planet last year.
The discovery of the moon helps give astronomers a more complete picture of Saturn's complex system and might provide further understanding of how the planet's ring-like structure of orbiting space debris formed. It also gives NASA another object to track when studying the planet, as well as another object to take into consideration when plotting trajectories for future missions.
It's the fifth moon the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft has discovered since it arrived in orbit around the planet in 2004. At the time the spacecraft launched from Earth in 1997, only 18 moons were known to orbit Saturn.
"Now, between Earth-based telescopes and Cassini we have more than tripled that number — and each and every new discovery adds another piece to the puzzle and becomes another new world to explore," said Carl Murray, a Cassini imaging team scientist from Queen Mary college, University of London.
The space probe is scheduled to come within 11,700 kilometres of the newly discovered moon in December 2009.
Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, has 63 known moons orbiting it — the most of any of the planets in our solar system.