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Home / Science / Astronomers find 20 – Yes 20 – new moons for Saturn

Astronomers find 20 – Yes 20 – new moons for Saturn



The reign of Jupiter, named after the father of the Olympian gods, was long and sweet. Apart from being the largest planet in the solar system, this gas giant in the 17th century has shown that planets other than Earth can carry a system of moons. Between his size, his strong magnetic field and the system of 79 moons, Jupiter seemed to remain the king of the planets for good. But it looks like Saturn, named after the father of Jupiter in Greco – Roman mythology might have just knocked Jupiter off this pedestal. Thanks to a team led by the famous astronomer Scott S. Sheppard, 20 new moons were discovered orbiting Saturn. This brings the total number of Saturn (or Krona) satellites to 82, ahead of Jupiter's 79. And the best? You can help to name them!

The discovery was announced today (Monday, October 7) by the Minor Planet Center (MPEC) of the International Astronomical Union. The team responsible for the discoveries included Sheppard, David Jewitt of UCLA and Jan Kleyna of the University of Hawaii with the 8.2-meter Subaru telescope at Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii.

The orbit of Saturn's 20 newly discovered moons. Credit: Carnegie Institute of Science / NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI (Saturn) / Paolo Sartorio / Shutterstock (background)

These newly discovered satellites all fall into the outer group of Saturn's moons, which are divided into three distinct clusters the inclinations of their orbits around the planet. They are known as Inuit, Norse and Gallic groups, named after mythological figures that derive from the traditions of each of these cultures.

Two of the newly discovered progressive moons fit into the Inuit group, which slopes about 46 ° ° while the retrograde moons are part of the Nordic group. The two satellites closest to Saturn have prograde motions and a orbital period of about two years, while the more distant moons – which include two retrograde and one prograde moon – have orbital periods of more than three years.

The other Prograde Moon has a railway grade near 36 ° which resembles the other moons in the Gallic group. Interestingly, the two new Inuit moons should have been part of a larger moon that had broken apart in the past. By studying these and other previously undiscovered satellites, astronomers can learn a lot about the formation and evolution of the Saturn system.

Sheppard recently stated in a Carnegie Science press release:

"The study of the orbits of these moons may reveal their origin as well as information about the conditions around Saturn at the time of its formation. Jupiter is also surrounded by outer moons, reflecting indicates violent collisions between moons in the Saturn system or with external objects such as passing asteroids or comets. "

The Saturn moons from left to right: Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione Rhea; Titanium in the background; Iapetus (above) and irregular shaped Hyperion (below). There are also some small moons shown. Everything to scale. Likewise, it is possible that the newly discovered retrograde moons are also fragments of a larger moon because they have similar inclinations as other previously known retrograde moons. However, one of the new moons orbits Saturn much further than the previously known ones. This could mean that it is not associated with them or that it has been pulled away from Saturn over time.

This is consistent with the most widely used theory of how the solar system formed billions of years ago (also known as the fog hypothesis). Shortly after the sun was born from the gas and dust of the nebula, the remaining material fell into a disk, which gradually accumulated to the planets. Similarly, during its formation, Saturn was probably surrounded by a ring of gas and dust that gradually rose to its moons.

If some of these newly discovered moons were part of a larger moon that broke apart and there was a large amount of gas and dust at the time, there would have been a lot of friction and collisions with the fragments of the moon. This would have meant that the newly created moons would have wound into the Saturn atmosphere and been lost.

The creation process was largely completed and the hard drives did not matter, "Sheppard said.

These 20 satellites represent the latest from a series of moons discovered by Sheppard and his colleagues in the outer solar system. Last year Sheppard was responsible for the discovery of 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter – bringing the total number of gas giants to 79.

"With some of the largest telescopes in the world, we now complete the inventory of the small moons around the giant planets," said Sheppard. "They play a crucial role in determining how the planets of our solar system have formed and evolved."

The Carnegie Institution of Science then hosted an online contest to designate five of these moons, which were recently named Pandia, Ersa, Eirene, Philophrosyne and Eupheme – all names of the descendants of Zeus. This time, Carnegie hosts another online contest to name five of the newly discovered Saturn moons. The details of the competition and the instructions for participation can be found here.

The efforts of Sheppard and his colleagues help to improve our understanding of the outer planets and the processes that shaped them. In the meantime, the success of the name contests is evidence of modern astronomy and how the public is involved in the process of discovery as never before.

"I was so excited about the amount of public commitment to the Jupiter lunar-name contest that we decided to do another to name these newly discovered Saturn moons," Sheppard said. "This time, the moons have to be named after giants from the Nordic, Gallic or Inuit mythology."

In the meantime, Jupiter may be waiting for its discovery. And even if there are fewer satellites than Saturn, it always has the most inhospitable radiation environment!

Further reading: Carnegie Science


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