Saturn has now toppled Jupiter from its spot of having the most number of moons in our known solar system, as 20 more pieces of rock have been discovered orbiting the planet by astronomers. The number of Saturn moons is now up to 82, three more than Jupiter, which is larger and right next to Saturn.
Scott Sheppard, an astronomer who was leading the discovery at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC said that it is exhilarating and that the moons are planted far away from the planet. Each moon is individually three miles across in size.
Scientists came upon these moons when they were setting algorithms to work on images that are at least a decade old. The Subaru telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, has captured these images. When compared with pictures taken a few hours apart, the algorithm distinguished between stationary stars and galaxies, and moons that were orbiting Saturn.
When the solar system was new, large amounts of dust and gas which was circling the sin coalesced into our eight known planets. Sheppard thinks that after Saturn was formed over 4 billion years ago, asteroids and comets passing were pulled by the planet’s gravity and have orbited it since.
The angle of approach was the decider on which asteroids would come into Saturn’s orbit. Out of the many which would have become locked in orbit, only three of Saturn’s moons orbit it in the same direction as it rotates. 17 other moons are orbit the planet in the opposite direction.
One of the moons discovered is the farthest moon ever spotted from Saturn.
The outer moons of the planet are categorized into three families according to their orbit around it. Two of the new rotating the right way belong to a group that swings around Saturn at 46 degrees. The moons are named after Inuit mythology and once could have belonged to a larger moon that has broken apart not too long ago.
The ones orbiting the opposite way belong to a group named after Norse mythology and may also have been part of one of the moons that have now been smashed into pieces.
The grouping of outer moons is mirrored on Jupiter as well, showing that collisions of moons take place with outside objects such as stray asteroids or comets.
The discovery was announced on Monday by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.