Earlier this year, Jupiter was declared the moon king planet after astronomers 12 additional moons orbiting the largest gas giant in the solar system. That discovery increased Jupiter’s moons to 92. However, in a recent study, astronomers discovered 62 new moons of Saturn.
Before this discovery, Saturn have 83 moons recognized by the International Astronomical Union. But this latest finding increased the total number of Saturn’s moons to 145. Scientists marvel at this discovery as it made Saturn the only planet with more than 100 moons.
How Astronomers Discovered 62 New Moons Of Saturn
Discovering new celestial bodies around a planet is quite challenging. However, astronomers are always ambitious in making newer scientific discoveries every day. In a recent study, a team of scientists led by Edward Ashton, a postdoctoral scientist at the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics used a method known as “shift and stack” to discover the 62 new faint and smaller moons around Saturn.
The scientists deployed this method by using several images shifting at the same speed at which a moon travels across the Earth’s sky to boost the signal coming from that moon. Some of these moons are highly faint to reveal themselves in single images. However, researchers were able to see them in stacked images. Scientists have previously used this method in searching for moons around the ice giants Neptune and Uranus.
However, this is the first time that they used it to study Saturn, and marvels at the outcome of the observation. The team obtained data gathered between 2019 and 2021 in three-hour spans by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) to conduct the recent study. This powerful telescope mounted on top of Maunakea in Hawaii has enabled scientists to discover smaller moons as tiny as 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) in diameter orbiting Saturn.
How Astronomers Confirmed the Latest Discovery Of News Moons Of Saturn
Some of the moons of Saturn announced in recent discoveries have already been found as of 2019. However, astronomers have to confirm that they were not asteroids or comets flying across Saturn. Scientists migrated these celestial bodies from suspected moons into confirmed moons of Saturn after they tracked them for several years to finalize that they are moving around the most ringed planet in the solar system.
Astronomers confirmed these objects through a painstaking process of matching objects spotted on different nights for 24 months. The team of astronomers kept track of 63 objects since then. However, one of these objects was confirmed as of 2021, while the remaining 62 moons were confirmed over the past few weeks.
“Tracking these moons makes me recall playing the kid’s game Dot-to-Dot because we have to connect the various appearances of these moons in our data with a viable orbit,” Ashton revealed in a statement. “But with about 100 different games on the same page, and you don’t know which dot belongs to which puzzle.”
Why Astronomers Think That Saturn’s Irregular Moons May Have a Violent History
Astronomers referred to these newly discovered celestial objects as irregular moons of Saturn. The team of scientists that participated in this study suggested that the object have been trapped by Saturn’s gravitational potential. Since they cannot escape the gravitational influence of the gas giant, they ended up orbiting around it following different parts including flattened, large, and elliptical.
The orbits of these irregular moons are more inclined when compared to the orbits of regular moons. The latest discovery increased the number of irregular moons of Saturn to 121 while the regular moons remain 24 in number. Astronomers revealed that irregular moons such as the newly discovered seem to bunch up in groups.
However, this highly depends on the tilt of their orbits. Scientists are suggesting that Saturn’s system hosts about three of these groupings on the moon and they include the Inuit group, the Gallic group, and the densely populated Norse group. These unique names originated from several mythologies. All 62 newly confirmed moons belong to these three existing grouping.
Three of these moons fall into the Inuit group, while the remaining 59 belong to the Norse group. Astronomers believed that the moons in these three groups came into existence when massive moons captured by Saturn slammed into each other and scattered into smaller pieces.
How the Smaller and Fainter Moons Of Saturn Came into Existence
Astronomers are hoping to advance the way they study the orbits of Saturn’s irregular moons so as to understand the history of such massive collisions in the Saturnian system. The team revealed the massive number of tiny moons in a retrograde orbit around Saturn. This implies that they are moving in the opposite direction to Saturn’s orbit.
The large number of these smaller moons is also providing strong evidence of a collision that occurred between irregular moons around the planet. Scientists suggested that this collision occurred as recently as 100 million years ago and it led to the creation of moons in the Norse group.
“As one pushes to the limit of modern telescopes, we are finding increasing evidence that a moderate-sized moon orbiting backward around Saturn was blown apart something like 100 million years ago,” team member and University of British Columbia astronomer Brett Gladman said in the same statement.
When Jupiter became the moon king in February 2023, Saturn lost the title that it held for years. However, in less than four months, Saturn reclaimed its moon crown with 62 additional new moons. As astronomers improve their method of detecting moons, we should be expecting more fascinating discoveries of new moons around the gas giants and ice giants in the future. What do you think about this fascinating discovery?