Bengaluru: Saturn has overtaken Jupiter as the planet with the most number of moons in our solar system. A discovery of 20 new moons in the ringed-planet was announced by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Monday. With this, the total number of moons around Saturn now is 82 — three more than Jupiter.
The new moons were discovered using observations that were made between 2004 and 2007 when scientists had identified some pricks of light near the planet. But researchers had initially struggled to determine if these blobs of light orbited Saturn.
Using advanced and automated analysing techniques currently available, a team of scientists again analysed the same data and concluded that all 20 points of light went around the Saturn.
The team also determined that the newly-discovered moons are 5 km or less in diameter, and one of them is actually the farthest moon from Saturn that scientists know of. Seventeen of these moons are in retrograde orbits, revolving around Saturn in the direction opposite to the planet’s rotation. These moons take over three earth-years to complete one revolution.
Name suggestions for new moons
The new moons fit into three existing satellite groupings around the Saturn, differentiated by their orbital characteristics. Astronomers believe that these groupings must have come about after an impact and destruction of a larger moon in the past.
“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 astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science who had led the team of scientists that discovered the moons.
Sheppard had earlier also led a team that discovered 12 new moons around Jupiter last year.
Carnegie institute has now asked people to suggest names for the new moons. People can tweet their suggestions to the Twitter account @SaturnLunacy with the hashtag #NameSaturnsMoons. Photos, artwork, and videos are also strongly encouraged, said the institute in a statement.
Saturn’s moons are named after mythological giants and the new discoveries have been categorised into Inuit, Norse and Gallic.
Scientists now believe that more such moons may be discovered in the years to come, even around icy planets such as the Uranus and Neptune, with advanced equipment such as the Giant Magellan Telescope (which will be set-up in Chile) soon at their disposal.