Saturn overtakes Jupiter as planet with most moons

Seventeen of the newly detected Saturnian moons are orbiting in the opposite direction of the planet's rotation

Saturn overtakes Jupiter as planet with most moons

After careful observation, the team determined that the new moons were similar in size and, with the exception of three, orbiting the planet backwards. In many ways, Earth's moon is the flawless introduction to teach humanity some very basic things about how the universe works.

As you might recall from past year, Sheppard was involved in the discovery of 12 additional moons around Jupiter, bring the Jovian giant's total to 79.

"The fact that these newly discovered moons were able to continue orbiting Saturn after their parent moons broke apart indicates that these collisions occurred after the planet-formation process was mostly complete and the disks were no longer a factor", says Sheppard. It was confirmed by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre, said a report by The Weather Channel. These discoveries bring the planet's total moon count to 82, surpassing Jupiter for the most in our solar system.

Each of Saturn's newly discovered moons measures between 3 and 4 kilometres (1.9 - 2.5 miles) in diameter, so yeah, they're tiny.

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The Carnegie Institute of Science opened a contest to allow people to name the 20 new moons.

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

In a fun bonus, the scientists behind the discovery are now asking for the public's help in naming the new moons. Image: Saturn image is courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. Of the 20 new moons, three are in prograde orbit (moving in the same direction as Saturn's rotation) and 17 are in retrograde orbit (you guessed it, moving opposite Saturn's rotation).

"I was so thrilled with the amount of public engagement over the Jupiter moon-naming contest that we've made a decision to do another one to name these newly discovered Saturnian moons", Sheppard said. Two of the prograde moons require around two years to make a complete orbit of the gas giant, while the remaining 18 moons require more than three years to make a single orbit (our Moon requires 27 days to make a complete orbit around Earth).

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Seventeen of the moons will have Norse names, two will have Inuit names and one will have a Gallic name, according to the contest page. They could watch the moons orbiting Saturn moving against a backdrop of stars and galaxies that appear still due to their distance. The moons must be named after giants from Norse, Gallic, or Inuit mythology.

Only Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun, is larger. Jupiter's Ganymede is nearly half the size of Earth. Seeing that Saturn "has more moons even though it is harder to find them, shows just how many moons Saturn has collected over time", Sheppard told Gizmodo.

People from all over the world can be a part of this naming contest that was thrown open on October 7 and will go on till December 6.

If you discovered a moon, what would you name it?

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