Saturn overtakes Jupiter as planet with most moons in solar system

Eloise Marshall
October 8, 2019

Saturn has overtaken Jupiter as the planet with the most moons, according to USA researchers.

Saturn has taken over from Jupiter as host to the most moons in the solar system after astronomers spotted 20 more lumps of rock orbiting the ringed planet.

Previously, Jupiter held the title for having the most number of moons in the solar system with a total count of 79.

The newly reported satellites, confirmed by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, were found by the same team that reported spotting 12 new moons of Jupiter previous year.

"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. Jupiter's Ganymede is nearly half the size of Earth.

The astronomers noted that each of the new moons of Saturn has a diameter of about three miles. 17 of the moons obit the planet backwards, meaning that their obital rotation is backwards when compared to the way the planet is spinning.

The team responsible for the discoveries included Sheppard, David Jewitt of UCLA, and Jan Kleyna of the University of Hawaii using the 8.2 meter Subaru Telescope located at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii.

'Studying the orbits of these moons can reveal their origins, as well as information about the conditions surrounding Saturn at the time of its formation, ' said Carnegie Institution for Science's Scott S. Sheppard, who lead the team of astronomers that made the discovery.

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"These moons have fairly inclined orbits to Saturn and are pretty far out, so we don't think they formed with the planet, we think they were captured by the planet in the past", he added.

Sheppard discovered a dozen Jupiter moons a year ago, and the Carnegie Institution organized a public contest to name five of those worlds.

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.

Dr Sheppard told BBC News that Jupiter had been the planet with most known moons since the late 1990s.

One last one (in green) is an "oddball", just like Jupiter's "Valetudo". It's thought these baby moons may have come from larger parent moons that broke apart right after Saturn formed. You'll also want to make sure your suggested name hasn't already been used for a moon or some other celestial object. To join the naming contest, check out this link here.

At the birth of the solar system, vast amounts of dust and gas circling the sun coalesced into the eight known planets. 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. Its inclination is near 36 degrees, making it similar to a group of inner, prograde moons called the Gallic group. They are known as the Inuit, Norse, and Gallic groups, which named after mythological figures derived from these respective cultures' traditions.

Check out the Carnegie Institution's contest rules and the IAU's naming rules for the details. Two of the new prograde moons appear to belong to a group that swings around Saturn at an angle of about 46 degrees. "This time, the moons must be named after giants from Norse, Gallic or Inuit mythology".

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

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