Saturn overtakes Jupiter as planet with most moons

Saturn moons

Saturn moons

A major discovery will see Saturn dethrone Jupiter as our solar system's title-holder for most moons.

A team discovered a haul of 20 new moons orbiting the ringed planet, bringing its total to 82; Jupiter, by contrast, has 79 natural satellites.

The observing team that discovered the new moons using the Subaru telescope included Dr Sheppard, David Jewitt of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and Jan Kleyna of the University of Hawaii.

"Saturn has just surpassed it for the first time today", he added. These 17 all take more than three Earth years to complete one Saturn lap, and the most far-flung one is the most distant Saturn satellite known, discovery team members said.

In fact, astronomers believe that Saturn's smaller moons are the "last remnants" of the objects that originally came together to form the giant planets.

"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", said Dr Sheppard. The ones marked in blue are part of the Inuit group.

One last one (in green) is an "oddball", just like Jupiter's "Valetudo".

According to Sheppard, each of these newfound moons is around 5 kilometres in diameter.

The scientists discovered the moons when they set algorithms to work on decade-old images captured from the powerful Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. But it took 10 years of improvements to computer power and algorithms to derive their orbits from the data and link their positions from year to year.

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The discovery was announced on Monday by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.

Visit Carnegie Science's Saturn Moon Name Contest page for more contest details. Include your reasoning and the hashtag #NameSaturnsMoons. Nominators are invited to explain why they picked the name, and "photos, artwork, and videos are strongly encouraged". Based on the angle of their orbit, these moons are all part of the "Norse" group.

So, as of October 7, 2019, a new contest has opened up on the Carnegie Science website, for the public to submit names for these 20 newfound moons.

Similar to their discovery of a dozen moons orbiting Jupiter previous year, the team will now host a public contest created to name the newest additions to Saturn's bevy of moons.

A third moon is part of a similar group called the Norse group that will be given names from Norse mythology. Seventeen of them have retrograde orbits, meaning they move around Saturn in the opposite direction to the planet's rotation.

One of the prograde moons has an angle of 36 degrees, similar to the other prograde moons close to Saturn named for Gallic mythology.

Sheppard says he thinks Saturn probably has 100 moons that are a kilometre in size or bigger, but astronomers may need to wait for the next generation of bigger, better telescopes to confirm them all.

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

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