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Saturn bests Jupiter as planet with most moons

October 8, 2019

Scientists have spotted 20 small moons orbiting Saturn, pipping Jupiter as the planet with the most moons in the solar system — but there may be more moons that are yet to be discovered.

Image: picture-alliance/AP/NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Saturn has overtaken Jupiter as the solar system's planet with the most moons after scientists discovered 20 more orbiting the ringed planet.

Scientists on Monday said the 20 additional moons were discovered during the summer, bringing Saturn's total to 82 moons — pipping Jupiter's 79.

Read more:  NASA plans drone mission to Titan, Saturn's largest moon

A team led by Scott Shephard of the Carnegie Institution for Science spotted Saturn's new moons using a telescope in Hawaii. The moons are tiny when compared to others, measuring just 5 kilometers (3 miles) in diameter.

"It was fun to find that Saturn is the true moon king," Sheppard said.

The Carnegie Institution for Science has now launched a public moon-naming competition for the newly discovered moons.

5 facts about Saturn

Mini-moons tell story of how planets were formed

Mini-moons around planets are difficult to spot as more powerful telescopes are needed to find them.

There may still be around 100 further moons waiting to be discovered around Saturn, according to Sheppard, but a larger telescope will be needed in the future to spot them.

Just last year, Sheppard discovered 12 new moons around Jupiter, and the planet had previously held the title for most moons in the solar system.

Read more: Saturn moon could support life, Cassini spacecraft findings show

The planet — the largest in the solar system — is closer to Earth than Saturn, making its moons much easier to spot with a less powerful telescope.

Despite being overtaken by Saturn, Jupiter still holds the title for having the biggest moon, named Ganymede, which is almost half the size of Earth.

"These moons are the remnants of the objects that helped form the planets, so by studying them, we are learning about what the planets formed from," Sheppard said.

Seventeen of Saturn's new moons orbit the planet in the opposite, or retrograde, direction. The other three orbit in the same direction that Saturn rotates. The trio is so far from Saturn that it takes two to three years to complete a single orbit.

kmm/stb (AP)

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