61°F
weather icon Clear

Discovery of 20 new moons sends Saturn past Jupiter

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The solar system has a new winner in the moon department.

Twenty new moons have been found around Saturn, giving the ringed planet a total of 82, scientists said Monday. That beats Jupiter and its 79 moons.

“It was fun to find that Saturn is the true moon king,” said astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

If it’s any consolation to the Jupiter crowd, our solar system’s biggest planet — Jupiter — still has the biggest moon. Jupiter’s Ganymede is almost half the size of Earth. By contrast, Saturn’s 20 new moons are minuscule, each barely 3 miles in diameter.

Sheppard and his team used a telescope in Hawaii to spot Saturn’s 20 new moons over the summer. About 100 even tinier moons may be orbiting Saturn, still waiting to be found, he said.

Astronomers have pretty much completed the inventory of moons as small as 3 miles around Saturn and 1 mile around Jupiter, according to Sheppard. Future larger telescopes will be needed to see anything smaller.

It’s harder spotting mini moons around Saturn than Jupiter, Sheppard said, given how much farther Saturn is.

“So seeing that Saturn has more moons even though it is harder to find them, shows just how many moons Saturn has collected over time,” he wrote in an email. These baby moons may have come from larger parent moons that broke apart right after Saturn formed.

Seventeen of Saturn’s new moons orbit the planet in the opposite, or retrograde, direction. The other three circle in the same direction that Saturn rotates. They’re so far from Saturn that it takes two to three years to complete a single orbit.

“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.

Just last year, Sheppard found 12 new moons around Jupiter. The Carnegie Institution had a moon-naming contest for them; another is planned now for Saturn’s new moons .

The jury is still out on whether any planets beyond our solar system have even more moons. For now, Saturn has the most known moons.

Monday’s announcement came from the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
 
Transit of Mercury brings out stargazers around the world

Stargazers used solar-filtered binoculars and telescopes to spot Mercury — a tiny black dot — as it passed directly between Earth and the sun on Monday.

Did you receive a bizarre text? You are not alone

Mobile carriers offered unhelpful explanations for the weird-text phenomenon, which appeared to be widespread, at least according to social media.

Earthquakes felt in Las Vegas strained major fault, study says

The earthquakes that hammered the Southern California desert near the town of Ridgecrest last summer involved ruptures on a web of interconnected faults and increased strain on a major nearby fault that has begun to slowly move, according to a new study.

16 digital scams and the classic cons that inspired them

Fraud was rampant even before the internet. By knowing how scammers use modern technology to swipe money from victims — and the low-tech origins of those scams — you can keep your money safe.