20 new moons discovered orbiting Saturn

James Marshall
October 8, 2019

Saturn has broken a new solar system record with the discovery of 20 new moons circling it.

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

Saturn has overtaken Jupiter as the planet with the most moons, according to USA researchers. Only three orbit the other way (prograde).

The retrograde-orbiting moons have orbits resembling other already known moons. A lot of them orbit the ringed planet in the opposite direction that it rotates (retrograde).

Two of the prograde moons take about two years to travel once around the ringed planet.

The moons were discovered by a team led by Scott S. Sheppard at the Carnegie Institution for Science and used the Subaru Telescope at Hawaii's Mauna Kea Observatory.

Two of the moons are part of a group of moons called the Inuit group, whose original members were discovered by Canadian astronomers and named by team member John Kavelaars, now at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, and Inuit storyteller and children's author Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak.

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

For example, the newfound moons' existence suggests that the impacts that created them occurred after Saturn was fully formed, Sheppard said. The gas giant was surrounded by a disk of dust and gas as it was taking shape. "But since Saturn's further away, it's harder to detect its moons". If you missed that competition, don't worry: You now have another chance.

The new retrograde moons appear to belong to another group named after Norse mythology and are also thought to be fragments of a much bigger parent moon that was smashed to pieces in the solar system's violent past.

In fact, Jupiter has held the "moon king" title for decades, and got a dozen new moons added to its tally just previous year, says Scott Sheppard, the Carnegie astronomer who led the new discoveries. If you're interested, submit your proposal by tweeting @SaturnLunacy from now until December 6. Suggestions can be tweeted to @SaturnLunacy with the hashtag #NameSaturnsMoons. Nominators are invited to explain why they picked the name, and "photos, artwork, and videos are strongly encouraged".

Visit Carnegie Science's Saturn Moon Name Contest page for more contest details.

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated byKarl Tate), is out now.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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