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WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- NASA's Hubble Space Telescope photographed a new pair of rings around Uranus and two new, small moons orbiting the planet.
The largest ring is twice the diameter of the planet's previously known rings. The rings are so far from the planet, they are being called Uranus' "second ring system." One of the new moons shares its orbit with one of the rings. Analysis of the Hubble data also reveals the orbits of Uranus' family of inner moons have changed significantly over the past decade.
"The detection of these new interacting rings and moons will help us better understand how planetary systems are formed and sustained, which is of key importance to NASA's scientific exploration goals," said Dr. Jennifer Wiseman , program scientist for Hubble at NASA Headquarters.
Since dust orbiting Uranus is expected to be depleted by spiraling away, the planet's rings must be continually replenished with fresh material. "The new discoveries demonstrate that Uranus has a youthful and dynamic system ofrings and moons," said Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute, Baltimore .
Showalter and Jack Lissauer of NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, Calif., propose that the outermost ring is replenished by a 12-mile-wide newly discovered moon, named Mab, which they first observed using Hubble in 2003.