With help from a major telescope and a little investigator work, space experts have found 20 new moons in orbit around Saturn.
The disclosures, declared Monday by the International Astronomical Union, bring to 82 the total number of natural satellites known to circle the 6th planet from the sun.
A gas monster that is the second-biggest planet in our solar system, Saturn currently has more known moons than some other planet. Jupiter, the biggest planet and the past record holder, has 79 known moons.
“It was fun to find that Saturn is the true moon king for our solar system,” Scott Sheppard, a faculty member at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., and the leader of the team of astronomers who discovered the moons told NBC News MACH in an email. He called the moons “remnants of the objects that helped form the planets.”
Sheppard is credited with a year ago’s discovery of 12 beforehand obscure moons around Jupiter, a haul that carried that planet to its 79-moon total. The institution held a challenge to name five of those Jovian moons and is holding a comparable challenge to name every one of the 20 of Saturn’s newly discovered moons. Entries must be submitted via Twitter by Dec. 6.
Saturn’s newly discovered moons are believed to have emerged after the development of the planets billions of years prior was for the most part total. Every ha a diameter across of around 5 kilometers, or 3 miles. Seventeen are in so-called retrograde orbits, which means their movement is inverse to Saturn’s rotation around its axis. Three are in prograde orbits, which means they move a similar way as the planet’s rotation.
The exploration caused a buzz in the astronomy world.
“I’m super-excited that it’s come out,” said Jackie Faherty, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The discoveries add to the “forensic evidence” relating to the formation of Saturn and the solar system overall, she added.
“We’ve been to Saturn. Cassini was there, Voyager was there, and we still missed these moons,” Faherty said, referring to NASA space probes that visited Saturn. “It’s a reminder that in astronomy, you can fly right by and right around and still miss things.”
Sheppard’s team found the moons by investigating perceptions made over 10 years back utilizing the Subaru Telescope, an 8.2-meter telescope situated on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. “I went back through the old data searching by eye for very faint things our automatic program may have missed,” Sheppard said in the email, adding that it was “a very time-intensive process.”
More Saturnian moons may yet be found. Sheppard said around 100 moons with a diameter of at least one mile are believed to be orbiting the planet — however, it will take greater telescopes to find these modest bodies, whose small size and outrageous separation makes them exceptionally difficult to observe.