Saturn Surpasses Jupiter as Planet with Most Moons


That brings its total to 82, three more than Jupiter.

It's always special when astronomers spot new moons, but this latest discovery is extreme - 20 new moons confirmed all at once, as announced Tuesday by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre.

"This kind of grouping of outer moons is also seen around Jupiter, indicating violent collisions occurred between moons in the Saturnian system or with outside objects such as passing asteroids or comets", Sheppard explained in the statement.

Despite being overtaken by Saturn, Jupiter still holds the title for having the biggest moon, named Ganymede, which is nearly half the size of Earth.

The newly discovered moons, each barely 5 kilometres in diameter, are miniscule when compared with Saturn's biggest moon, Titan, which is more than 5,000 kilometres in diameter. Seventeen of them orbit the planet backwards, or in a retrograde direction, meaning their movement is opposite of the planet's rotation around its axis.

"It was fun to find that Saturn is the true moon king", said astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

One of the prograde satellites has a tilted orbit at 36 degrees, similar to the other known inner prograde moons in the Gallic group.

"We thought they were moons of Saturn, but we weren't able to get full orbits to determine this", said Dr Sheppard.

"These moons are the remnants of the objects that helped form the planets, so by studying them, we are learning about what the planets formed from", Sheppard said.

Last year, Sheppard discovered 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter and Carnegie hosted an online contest to name five of them. Two of the moons take about two years to orbit, while the other 18 take more than three years to complete an orbit.

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Just a year ago, Sheppard found 12 new moons around Jupiter.

"Scientists think each of those groups may have come from a larger moon that broke apart into smaller bodies".

A third moon is part of a similar group called the Norse group that will be given names from Norse mythology.

An artist's conception of the 20 newly discovered moons orbiting Saturn.

'In the Solar System's youth, the Sun was surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust from which the planets were born.

Wanna name one of Saturn's moons?

Additionally, researchers say the moons were likely created after the planet was mostly formed given their proximity. The retrograde moons join the Norse group (all named after Norse mythology), while two others join the Inuit group (named for Inuit mythology), and the final moon goes with the Gallic group (again, mythology).

The newly reported discoveries mean Jupiter is back in the No. 2 position when it comes to tallies of known moons. The details of the contest and instructions onhow to take part can be found here. So they were captured into orbits around the planet rather than falling into the planet. Meanwhile, the success of the naming contests is a testament to modern astronomy and how the public is becoming involved in the discovery process like never before. The two new moons, will be given names from Inuit mythology.

The discovery images for the newly found very distant prograde moon of Saturn.

In the meantime, Jupiter may have a bunch of moons that are waiting to be discovered.