Saturn is now the moon king of our solar system.
Astronomers discovered 20 more lumps of rock orbiting the planet bringing the total
number of known Saturnian moons to 82.
- This makes the ringed planet the most-orbited planet in the solar system.
- The moons are all similar in size, spanning about three miles across. They are much smaller than Enceladus, the Saturnian moon that astronomers are currently investigating for signs of life.
3 of the 20 have so-called prograde orbits, meaning they circle Saturn in the same direction that it rotates. The other 17 are in retrograde orbits, meaning they orbit the planet backward.
Astronomers from the Carnegie Institute of Science used the Subaru telescope that sits top Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano to find the moons.
They applied algorithms to work on images captured from the telescope. By comparing images taken over time, the algorithms identified between stationary stars and galaxies and moons that raced around the planet.
This discovery is important as it helps us learn how our Solar System’s planets formed and evolved.
Astronomers believe that shortly after Saturn formed, more than 4bn years ago, passing asteroids and comets were captured by the planet’s gravity and become locked into radically different orbits around the planet.
Astronomers at the Carnegie Institute of Science are having some fun with this discovery by organizing a contest to name the new lumps of rocks.