Giant Race: Saturn once again bypasses Jupiter by the number of moons

An international team of astronomers has announced the discovery of 62 previously unknown moons of Saturn. Thus, the total number of confirmed moons of the gas giant is 145, which is a new record for the Solar System.

How to find small satellites

Most of the planets in the Solar System have moons. Gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter can boast especially impressive “collections”. The absolute majority of their moons belong to the class of so-called irregular moons. These are very small objects which have a diameter measured in several kilometers and which usually move in very elongated and/or retrograde orbits. It is believed that most of these objects are asteroids, once captured by the gravity of gas giants.

Portrait of Saturn. Source: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Due to its small size and exceptional dimness, the search for irregular moons is a very difficult task. One of the techniques used for this is called “shift and stack”. In its course, scientists connect a set of consecutive images with the speed of movement of a possible moon. Combining the data makes it possible to isolate a signal that would be too dim for individual images. 

Previously, the shift and stack method was used only to search for the moons of Uranus and Neptune. But recently an international group of researchers decided to apply it to Saturn. For this, they used images taken by the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope in the period from 2019 to 2021. The search turned out to be very productive. In total, scientists managed to discover 62 previously unknown moons of Saturn.

Saturn’s New Record

Thanks to the discovery, the total number of Saturn’s moons has increased to 145. Thus, it overtook Jupiter (95 moons) and became the first known planet with more than 100 confirmed moons.

Some of Saturn’s moons on the background of its rings. Source: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

It is worth noting that 121 of the 145 moons of Saturn are irregular. They are divided into three main groups. Scientists believed that the largest of them was formed during the destruction of a large irregular moon, which occurred only 100 million years ago. This could explain why the sixth planet from the Sun has such an impressive number of companions.

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