March 4, 2024

Saturn has replaced Jupiter as the planet with the most known satellites in the solar system. Astronomers have announced that the number of new moons orbiting the ringed planet has reached 62, bringing the total to more than 100.

We Earthlings are used to having only one moon (and occasionally a second), but the average is much higher. Mars has two, and the gas giants and ice giants each have dozens. Jupiter usually leads the race, but Saturn has been known to overtake it sometimes. From the end of 2019, Saturn officially has 82 to Jupiter’s 79, but some additional research has pushed Jupiter’s total to 95 earlier this year.

Now, an international team of astronomers is once again handing the crown to the ringed planet, with the massive pull of 62 new moons bringing its total to 145 — 50 more than Jupiter. Another moon was discovered in 2021 before you ran to the comments and told us 82 + 62 = 144.

Regardless, the researchers were able to identify these new moons using a technique called “shift and superposition,” which had previously been applied to Neptune and Uranus, but not Saturn. Essentially, a series of images is a photograph of a planet and its surroundings. Each successive image is slightly shifted and then stacked so that satellites that would normally be too dark to appear in a single image become visible.

After years of tracking the object of interest, the team was able to identify 62 of its moons, bringing the number of moons of Saturn officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union to 145. All of these newcomers belong to a group called irregular moons, which orbit Earth at great distances, on stretched and slanted paths.

Given the sheer number of small moons in this group, the team hypothesizes that they are, astronomically speaking, fragments of larger moons that were recently torn apart.

“As people push modern telescopes to their limits, we’re finding more and more evidence that a modest-sized moon orbiting Saturn was blown up about 100 million years ago,” said Bray, an astronomer on the project. Dr. Brett Gladman said.

Saturn isn’t expected to hold that record for long, though. With new observatories such as Vera Rubin and Nancy Grace Roman on the horizon, it is believed that the total number of Jupiters could increase by hundreds more.

source: University of British Columbia