Published: Tue, October 08, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Saturn is now the planet with the most moons

Saturn is now the planet with the most moons

The planet - the largest in the solar system - is closer to Earth than Saturn, making its moons much easier to spot with a less powerful telescope.

Astronomers have found 20 new moons orbiting around Saturn, bumping its total up to 82 moons.

Monday's announcement came from the Minor Planet Center at the International Astronomical Union.

"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". "There are so many of these moons now, there's nearly guaranteed to be one of these moons somewhere near where the spacecraft enters the Jupiter or Saturn environment". By contrast, Saturn's 20 new moons are minuscule, each barely 3 miles (5 kilometers) in diameter.

The team behind the discovery includes Scott Sheppard from the Carnegie Institution for Science, David Jewitt of UCLA, and Jan Kleyna from the University of Hawaii.

The outer moons of Saturn fall into three broad families according to how they orbit the gas giant.

"Using some of the largest telescopes in the world, we are now completing the inventory of small moons around the giant planets", says Scott Sheppard.

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By studying these small moons and their interactions with our solar system's large planets, astronomers can answer questions about how these worlds were formed and how they've evolved.

As was the case with those moons of Jupiter, the discovery team at the Carnegie Institution for Science is soliciting suggestions for naming the newly reported moons of Jupiter.

The other three circle in the same direction that Saturn rotates and are so far from Saturn that it takes them two to three years to complete a single orbit.

"We thought they were moons of Saturn, but we weren't able to get full orbits to determine this", said Dr Sheppard. The IAU lists 79 Jovian moons, including the dozen newbies that Sheppard and his colleagues reported past year.

The retrograde and prograde moons may have once been part of at least three larger bodies that were broken apart by such collisions in the distant past. If you're interested, submit your proposal by tweeting @SaturnLunacy from now until December 6. They are known as the Inuit, Norse, and Gallic groups, which named after mythological figures derived from these respective cultures' traditions.

However, in the Solar System's youth, when Saturn was in the process of forming, a cloud, or "disc", of dust and gas surrounded the planet. The background stars and galaxies do not move, while the newly discovered Saturnian moon, highlighted with an orange bar, shows motion between the two images. But the newly discovered moon is farther out than the others. From 2004 to 2007, Sheppard and colleagues used Subaru to sweep Saturn's area looking for undiscovered moons. Eventually, these objects remained in Saturn's orbit and became the planet's natural satellites. These retrograde moons are in the Norse group, with names coming from Norse mythology. Two of the new prograde moons appear to belong to a group that swings around Saturn at an angle of about 46 degrees. They have to be named after giants from Norse, Gallic or Inuit mythology, corresponding to the three different clusters. And even if it does have fewer satellites than Saturn, it will always have the most inhospitable radiation environment!

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