Saturn has been confirmed to have more than 100 moons, meaning it may have the most of any planet in the solar system.
Saturn has overtaken Jupiter, which has only 95 moons, according to an international team of astronomers.
The International Astronomical Union, which has the final say on orbiting bodies, agrees that 28 ‘moons’ can now be added to Saturn’s haul, bringing its total to 117.
As the largest planets in the solar system, Saturn and Jupiter have so many moons because their mass creates enough gravitational pull to drag space rocks rotating the sun into their own orbit.
But, to be absolutely sure they have extra moons, objects must be tracked for several years before they can be designated as definitely orbiting the planet.
Saturn has been confirmed to have more than 100 moons, meaning it may have the most of any planet in the solar system. Pictured: Saturn and some of its moons, taken in August 2021
Saturn’s two biggest moons are Titan (left) and Rhea (right). Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and the second-largest moon in the Solar System, after Jupiter’s Ganymede
HOW MANY MOONS DOES EACH PLANET IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM HAVE?
The University of British Columbia says it has recorded 62 new moons around Saturn, catapulting the planet back into first place in the Solar System’s ‘moon race’.
However some astronomers take issue with relatively small lumps of rock being classified as moons alongside enormous moons like Jupiter’s Ganymede, which is larger than the entire planet of Mercury, at more than 1,600 miles in diameter.
Gareth Williams, who recently retired from the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Centre, said: ‘Saturn’s new moons have certainly been discovered, and they are certainly confirmed, so their reality is not in doubt and they are definitely Saturnian satellites.
‘But Roman numerals, given to moons which are often named after Gallic, Norse and Inuit gods, are not assigned immediately.
‘That happens after the object has been seen several times over a number of years, and the resulting orbit can be used to predict the future motion of the moon.’
Space expert Professor David Rothery, from the Open University, said: ‘Surveys by powerful telescopes, on the ground or in space, are finding additional small moons all the time at both Jupiter and Saturn.
The University of British Columbia says it has recorded 62 new moons around Saturn, catapulting the planet back into first place in the Solar System’s ‘moon race’. Pictured: 3D rendering of Saturn, its rings and its moons
In February, it was announced that twelve new moons have been discovered orbiting Jupiter, giving it the most moons of any planet in our solar system. This record has now been snatched by Saturn. Pictured : Jupiter and two of its largest moons, Ganymede and Europa
Jupiter’s two biggest moons are Ganymede (left) and Callisto (right). Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System, and Callisto is the third-largest moon in the Solar System
WHAT IS A MOON?
A moon is a natural satellite that orbits a planet.
Moons can vary in size, composition, and distance from their host planet.
The Earth has one moon, while other planets in our solar system have multiple moons.
Moons can have significant effects on their host planet, such as causing tides or stabilizing the planet’s rotation.
‘These are mostly kilometre-size chunks of comet or asteroid that were long ago captured into orbit by the strong gravity of the giant planet.
‘They are not the spectacular world-sized moons with internal oceans like Europa and Enceladus.
‘We will probably never know for sure which out of Jupiter and Saturn really has the most moons, because the harder we look, the more we find, and there is no agreement on the lower size limit that a piece of debris orbiting a planet must have before you can call it a moon.’
Dr Edward Ashton from Taiwan’s Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, who led the study from the University of British Columbia, said: ‘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.
‘But with about 100 different games on the same page and you don’t know which dot belongs to which puzzle.’
It comes as a study has concluded Saturn’s rings are no more than 400 million years old – much younger than the planet which formed more than four billion years ago.
Researchers used data gathered from Nasa spacecraft Cassini, which was destroyed via a controlled crash in 2017, on the later of cosmic dust which has built up around the planet’s rings, and can therefore indicate their age, like telling how old a house is by running your finger along its surfaces.
SATURN: THE BASICS
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second-largest planet in our solar system after Jupiter.
It is regarded as the ‘jewel of the solar system’ with its sunning rings.
It is not the only planet to have rings but none are as spectacular or as complicated as Saturn’s.
Like Jupiter, Saturn is a massive ball made mostly of hydrogen and helium, with some heavy elements.
Its core stretches out to cover 60 per cent of the radius of the world.
It is similar to the rest of the planet, but made of a ‘slush’ like material of gasses, metallic fluids, rock and ice.
The farthest planet from Earth discovered by the naked eye, Saturn has been known since ancient times.
The planet is named for the Roman god of agriculture and wealth, who was also the father of Jupiter.
While planet Saturn is an unlikely place for living things to take hold, the same is not true of some of its many moons.
Satellites like Enceladus and Titan, home to internal oceans, could possibly support life.
Facts and figures
Distance from Sun: 1.434 billion km
Orbital period: 29 years
Surface area: 42.7 billion km²
Radius: 58,232 km
Mass: 5.683 × 10^26 kg (95.16 M⊕)
Length of day: 0d 10h 42m
Moons: 117 with formal designations; innumerable additional moonlets
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