They discover 20 new moons around Saturn, and Jupiter removes the crown as the planet with the most moons in the Solar System.
As part of a new landmark discovery, a group of researchers and astronomers led by Scott S. Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC confirmed the presence of 20 new moons orbiting Saturn. This brings the number of moons of Saturn to 82, taking the top spot from Jupiter and its 79 known moons today.
The Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii was used for this discovery, and David Jewitt from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Jan Kleyna from the University of Hawaii collaborated. As they explain, it was a work of weeks, where they had to use algorithms to distinguish between stationary stars, galaxies, and moons around the planet.
And we earthlings can name them
The discovery, released by the International Astronomical Union’s Center for Minor Planets, explains that each of the newly discovered moons is about five kilometers in diameter. 17 of them have a retrograde movement, which means they move around Saturn in the opposite direction to the planet’s rotation. These 17 moons are estimated to take more than three Earth years to complete one round of Saturn.
The other three moons orbit in the same direction that Saturn rotates., “prograde motion”, and it is believed that it takes about two Earth years to travel once around the planet.
According to the researchers, the moons appear to be grouped into three main groups considering the inclination angles at which they orbit around the planet. Two of the newly discovered prograde moons have characteristics that fit into the group of outer moons with an inclination of about 46 degrees, known as the Inuit Group, in honor of Inuit mythology.
The 17 retrograde moons appear to belong to the Nordic Group of moons of Saturn, which share the same orbital characteristics. While the furthest prograde new moon could belong to the Gallic Group, inclined 36 degrees, but this is not clear at this time, according to the researchers.
The first analyzes suggest that these moons may have been part of a larger “mother” moon, which would have been impacted with some other object.
“In the youth of the Solar System, the Sun was surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust from which the planets were born. It is believed that a similar disk of gas and dust surrounded Saturn during its formation. The fact that these moons recently discovered to be able to continue orbiting Saturn after its mother moons broke, indicates that these collisions occurred after the planet’s formation process was almost complete and the disks were no longer present. “
Sheppard explains that this important discovery will be crucial in investigations that seek to determine how the planets of the Solar System formed and evolved.
As part of this discovery, the Carnegie Institution is announcing a call for anyone to submit name suggestions for these new moons. Those interested should send their proposal via Twitter to @SaturnLunacy from today until December 6. Each tweet should include the reasons for the proposed name, the hashtag #NameSaturnsMoons, and any multimedia content that can help with the reasons, such as photos, videos, or illustrations.