One of the benefits of the recent Cassini mission to Saturn was a deeper understanding of the nature of Saturn’s rings. In particular, the spacecraft discovered that the ring system was not simply comprised of billions of particles of orbiting dust, rock, and ice, but was a highly dynamic system where particles came together to form small moonlets within the rings. Cassini discovered some 60 of these moonlets in Saturn’s rings, and NASA scientists, who include a number of cat lovers in their ranks, nicknamed these moonlets “kittens” and gave them kitten names.
The moonlets include Mittens, Fluffy, Garfield, Socks, and Whiskers. Because the ring system is so large (and Cassini ended its successful mission by burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere), it is nearly impossible to track these on a permanent basis. Also, the ring system is highly dynamic, with new kittens constantly forming from ring particles, or breaking up to return to the rings, or merging to form larger kittens. If over time (lots of it), a kitten grows large enough (becoming a cat perhaps?), it will continue attracting material from the rings and become a new moon orbiting Saturn.
Isn’t that just like kittens: they never stand still, are practically impossible to track, and seem to just keep growing!
For more information on Cassini, Saturn, and the kittens in Saturn’s rings, visit space.com!