Saturn Just Retook Its Crown Of Having The Most Moons From Jupiter And It Isn't Close
It appears Saturn was not happy that gas giant Jupiter overtook it as the planet with the most moons earlier this year with 95 known natural satellites. Thanks to an international team of astronomers, however, the ringed planet has taken back its crown with 62 new moons being discovered.
Saturn is adorned with thousands of gorgeous ringlets made up of chunks of ice and rock. It resides about 900 million miles from the sun and has a colossal diameter of nearly 72,000 miles (9 times the size of Earth). Up until recently, it was believed Saturn had a total of 83 moons. But a new study has upped that number to a staggering 145.
"Saturn not only has nearly double its number of moons, it now has more moons than all the rest of the planets in the solar system combined," remarked Professor Brett Gladman, an astronomer at the University of British Columbia, in an interview with the Guardian.
All 62 of the new moons are classified as irregular moons which are characterized by their large, elliptical, and inclined orbits in comparison to regular moons. For now, each has been assigned a series of numbers for identification and will be renamed later after Galic, Norse, and Canadian Inuit gods to keep in line with prior Saturn moon naming.
"These moons are pretty key to understanding some of the big questions about the solar system," explained Bonnie Buratti of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. "They have the fingerprints of events that took place in the early solar system."
The new findings are not without a bit of controversy, however. The growing number is bringing into question what actually constitutes a moon.
"The simple definition of a moon is that it's an object that orbits a planet," remarked Scott Sheppard, an astronomer from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. As of right now, an object's size does not matter.
Astronomers say that while Jupiter may want to challenge Saturn later as the undisputed champion of moons, it is unlikely it will happen. "Saturn will win by miles. I don't think it's a contest anymore," added Mike Alexandersen, who is responsible for officially confirming moons at the International Astronomical Union.