Just this past week, Saturn overtook Jupiter as the planet in our solar system with the highest number of moons. Researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science have found at least 20 additional unidentified moons orbiting Saturn, bringing its total up to 82 – a sure step up from Jupiter’s latest count at just 79.
If you’re wondering why astronomers didn’t know about these moons previously, it’s because they’re somewhat tiny, averaging just three miles in diameter. Earth is relatively far away from Saturn, which makes discerning these small objects a challenge, but astronomical equipment continues to improve over time, making it possible to identify Saturn’s additional moons.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, their orbits around Saturn aren’t all perfectly circular. Each one follows its own elliptical orbit around Saturn, and when shown in a computer model alongside all of Saturn’s other moons, it looks like something right out of a spin painting machine.
Given just how large both Jupiter and Saturn are, it’s likely that astronomers will continue to find moons orbiting both of the gas giant planets in the foreseeable future. But will Jupiter reclaim its crown as the planet in our solar system with the highest number of moons? Or will Saturn’s moon count only continue to grow beyond that of Jupiter?
An interesting question that we’ll just have to wait to learn the answer of…