Saturn overtakes Jupiter as the planet with the most moons, as 20 more rocks are discovered in orbit – and the public has the ability to name them.
- More than 20 new moons were discovered orbiting Saturn.
- The discovery makes Saturn, the champion of our solar system for most moons
- In a public online contest, participants are asked to give their names.
- New moons could help formulate a clearer history of Saturn's past.
In an important discovery, Saturn will dethrone Jupiter as the titular of our solar system for most moons.
Astronomers from the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center discover 20 previously unknown moons, bringing the total number of planets to 82 – three more than Jupiter's to 79.
Astronomers say the moons are of similar size – about five kilometers in diameter – and the vast majority, 17 of them orbiting the ringed planet against the rotation of the planet about its own axis.
A newly discovered flock of moons encircles Saturn, making it the titleholder for most moons in our sol AR system
The discovery, say astronomers, could help to get even more information about the planet and its formation "The time of its creation," said Scott S. Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who headed the team of astronomers who made the discovery public contest to name the latest additions to Saturn's Moonbeam.
Participants are asked to submit names related to either Norse or Gallic mythology through Carnegie's online form.
Researchers noted that the formation of the retrograde moons indicated that they were probably once separated from a larger moon that was broken into moons in the Saturn system or with external objects such as passing asteroids or comets, Sheppard said.
Two of the orbits detected by the Moon Planets (pictured above) are progressive – meaning that the planet is spinning in the same direction as Saturn's axis – and it takes two years to travel around the planet
In addition, researchers say that the moons probably originated after the planet had formed largely due to its proximity.
In the youth of the solar system, the sun was surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust from which the planets were born. It is thought that Saturn was surrounded by a similar gas and dust disk during its formation, "Sheppard said after the planet formation process was largely completed and the disks were no longer a factor.