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New Moons Discovered Around Saturn, Breaking Record For Most Moons With 82

08 October 2019

A team led by Carnegie's Scott S. Sheppard has found 20 new moons orbiting Saturn. That brings its total to 82, three more than Jupiter.

"This kind of grouping of outer moons is also seen around Jupiter, indicating violent collisions occurred between moons in the Saturnian system or with outside objects such as passing asteroids or comets", Scott Sheppard, of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., said in a statement today (Oct. 7) announcing the discovery.

According to astronomers, the moons are similar in size - about five kilometers in diameter - and the vast majority, 17, of them orbit the ringed planet in retrograde, against the rotation of the planet on its axis.

Sheppard said the discovery of the moons can help scientists learn how planets in our solar system were formed.

Two of these missions, namely the Europa Clipper and Dragonfly missions, are from NASA while the European Space Agency is also working on its own expedition project to study the icy moons of Jupiter. By comparing images taken over hours and days, the algorithms distinguished between stationary stars and galaxies and moons that hurtled around the planet. That said, it's much further out from the planet than the rest of the group, meaning it might not belong with the others - or maybe it was just dragged outwards over time.

Last year, Sheppard and his team located 12 new moons around Jupiter, including one with a retrograde orbit.

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Dr Sheppard told BBC News that Jupiter had been the planet with most known moons since the late 1990s.

Saturn is farther away from Earth than Jupiter is, so it's tougher to find moons around Saturn.

"These moons are the remnants of the objects that helped form the planets, so by studying them, we are learning about what the planets formed from", Sheppard wrote. The other three moons orbit in the prograde-the same direction as Saturn rotates.

This article was first published on DW.

This illustration shows the orbital paths of the 20 newly discovered moons.

Two of the moons appear to be part of a known collection of Saturnian moons called the Inuit group.

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These inclinations suggest that the new moons could be chunks of ice and rock leftover from a larger moon that split apart in Saturn's past, Sheppard explained to The Register.

The data and calculations were submitted to the Minor Planet Centre of the International Astronomical Union, the scientific organization that assigns names to celestial bodies, which confirmed they are new moons. The previously unknown moon (highlighted by orange bars) moves against a backdrop of stars and galaxies that appear still due to their distance.

At the birth of the solar system, vast amounts of dust and gas circling the sun coalesced into the eight known planets.

Excitingly, a contest has been created for the public to choose names for the 20 moons. The gas giant was surrounded by a disk of dust and gas as it was taking shape. If you're interested, submit your proposal by tweeting @SaturnLunacy from now until December 6.

"I was so thrilled with the amount of public engagement over the Jupiter moon-naming contest that we've chose to do another one to name these newly discovered Saturnian moons", Sheppard said.

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New Moons Discovered Around Saturn, Breaking Record For Most Moons With 82