Saturn Regains Title for Most Moons in the Solar System with 62 New Discoveries
Saturn has officially regained its title as the planet with the most moons in the solar system, thanks to the recent discovery of 62 new natural satellites. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced the addition of 28 satellites for the ringed planet, bringing its total to 117 versus Jupiter’s 95. Back in February, astronomers announced Jupiter had 12 more moons than previously believed, giving it the lead over Saturn. However, astronomers have now discovered 62 new moons around Saturn, bringing its moon count to a total of 145 – over 50 more than Jupiter’s 92.
All of the 62 newly detected moons are “irregular moons,” meaning they follow distant, elliptical orbits around their host planet and often move in retrograde – or in the opposite direction of Saturn's rotation. The researchers have suggested that the small and peculiar moons tend to aggregate in retrograde orbits, indicating that they might have emerged from a single, bigger parent moon that disintegrated millions of years ago.
According to the researchers, a significant number of the recently discovered moons are believed to be fragments resulting from collisions that broke apart a larger moon or multiple moons. All of the newly found ones are considered “irregular,” meaning they have large, tipped, oval-shaped orbits. Their tilted orbits cause these moons to group together in clusters.
The method used to detect the new moons is called “shift and stack.” The method involves adjusting consecutive pictures to match the pace of the moon's movement across the heavens. This shifting results in an enhanced signal from the moon when the data is combined, allowing moons that were too faint to be seen in a single image to become visible once the images are stacked. The team shifted and stacked images taken during three-hour bursts of time, allowing them to detect moons as small as 2.5 kilometers orbiting Saturn.
The moons in Saturn’s irregular moon system are believed to be remnants of old planets or cosmic objects that collided with other objects, the rubble and debris becoming locked in orbit around Saturn. By studying the orbits of Saturn's irregular moons, astronomers can gain insights into the occurrences of collisions throughout the gas giant's history.
The discovery of 62 new Saturnian moons brings up its total tally to 145 natural satellites, with 121 known irregular moons along with its 24 regular moons. Newly discovered irregular moons have a tendency to cluster together in formations based on the angle of their orbits. Saturn's system currently hosts three of these groupings – the Inuit group, the Gallic group, and the Norse group, all of which take their names from different mythologies.
In conclusion, the discovery of these new moons is exciting for astronomers as it provides valuable insights into the collisional history of Saturn’s irregular moon system. It also sheds light on the origins of moons and planets in our solar system.
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