In case you weren't aware, Saturn and Jupiter are locked in a battle for supremacy. Jupiter is the bigger and more massive planet. Saturn’s rings are clearly more spectacular. But in terms of the number of moons, the two gas giants had been practically neck and neck.
This "moon race" has recently become more exciting, thanks to more powerful, sensitive telescopes and new methods of analysis. At the start of the year, there were only 83 confirmed moons orbiting Jupiter and 83 orbiting Saturn. Jupiter broke the tie when 12 additional Jovian moons were discovered, for a total of 95. But just this month, Saturn took a massive leap ahead.
University of British Columbia scientists announced the discovery of 62 additional moons orbiting Saturn, bringing the ringed planet’s total to a whopping 145 moons recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) – more than the rest of the moons in the solar system combined.
All of the newly-discovered satellites are known as “irregular moons” and have large, inclined orbits – the farthest reaching 18 million miles (29 million km) away from the planet. Just 24 of Saturn’s moons are regular – the remaining 121 are irregular and make up three groups based on their orbital tilt. They were likely formed when older moons collided and broke into smaller pieces.
Leaving Jupiter in the dust:
- One of the new moons is only 1.6 miles (2.6 km) in diameter – quite a contrast from Titan, Saturn's largest moon and the first to be discovered by Christiaan Huygens back in 1655. Titan has a diameter of 3,200 miles (5,150 km). Astronomers theorize that there could be many more irregular moons orbiting Saturn, especially when counting satellites with a diameter of two miles (3.2 km) or less.
- Although the announcement has only just been made, it’s taken years of observations for the existence of all 62 new moons to be confirmed, using the Subaru Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, both located in Hawaii.
- The new moons will ultimately have names derived from Norse, Inuit, and Gallic mythology.