DISCOVERY | 20 new moons puts Saturn ahead of Jupiter

James Marshall
October 10, 2019

The Carnegie Institution for Science held a contest to name five of them and are doing the same this year, but for all 20 moons.

The fifth planet in the solar system, Jupiter earlier had the badge of having the most moons- 79, but now Saturn, which stands sixth in the solar system has surpassed its neighbour on Monday when a team of astronomers led by Scott S. Sheppard discovered 20 new moons on the planet.

"Using some of the largest telescopes in the world, we are now completing the inventory of small moons around the giant planets", Scott Sheppard, a Carnegie astronomer who led the discovery team, said in a press release.

One of the newly discovered moons orbits in the prograde direction and has an inclination near 36 degrees, which is similar to those in the Gallic group, although it is much farther away from Saturn than any other prograde moons.

Most of the newly discovered moons have retrograde orbits, going in the opposite direction to Saturn's spin.

Some of the newly discovered moons are very faint and at the limit of detection with now available instruments. Sheppard said Jupiter was the planet with most known moons since the late 1990s, according to BBC News.

While it's cool to catalogue all the moons orbiting Saturn, finding these relatively tiny rock nuggets also helps researchers understand the formation of the planets in the solar system.

Of the 20 new moons, 17 are orbiting the moon "backwards", that is, in a direction opposite to the planet's motion. Decades later, with better telescopes, Christian Huygens and Giovanni Domenico Cassini observed Saturn's moons. The other two prograde moons are closer to Saturn and take around two years to complete their orbit. In many ways, Earth's moon is the ideal introduction to teach humanity some very basic things about how the universe works.

Earth's singular moon has offered astronomers the opportunity to study the relationship between planets and the natural satellites that orbit them. They are split into three distinct groups: Inuit, Gallic, and Norse. The Inuit moons are likely remnants of a large moon or object that disintegrated into smaller fragments a long time ago. Likewise, 17 retrograde moons must be named for giants in Norse mythology.

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

Then how many moons does Jupiter have?

"Because these new moons are on inclined orbits far from Saturn itself, we believe these new moons were captured by Saturn just after the planet formation process".

"They play a crucial role in helping us determine how our solar system " s planets formed and evolved", Sheppard continued.

In the meantime, the 20 new moons need names. Sorry, but Saturn McSaturnFace won't be allowed, as the names have to conform to their mythological groupings, along with other naming conventions.

Welcome, new moons! We look forward to learning more about you.

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