Jupiter has overtaken Saturn as the planet with the most famous moons

(ORDO NEWS) — The struggle for the most famous satellites of the solar system continues.

After Jupiter gave way to Saturn in 2019, Jupiter took the lead again.

Astronomers have counted 12 previously unknown moons in orbit around the largest planet in the solar system, bringing the known number to 92, leaving Saturn and its measly 83 moons in the dust.

The orbits of the satellites, unnamed, were published in the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center Circulars , which maintains a record of all small bodies found in the Solar System.

The observations were led by astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution of Science, who spearheaded the discovery after accidentally discovering many previously unknown moons of Jupiter while on the hunt for a mysterious hypothetical Planet Nine in the outer solar system.

“Jupiter just happened to be in the sky next to the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant solar system objects,” Sheppard said in 2018, after his team discovered a dozen new satellites.

Actually, it’s not that strange. that we have just discovered these objects. They are quite small and dim and hard to see, especially when Jupiter is directly in front of you, all large and reflective.

However, in their search for evidence of Planet Nine, researchers used a more powerful telescope than ever before, zooming in with higher resolution and a wider field of view than other observations in the past.

This allowed them to detect small moons that might have eluded previous detection.

According to Sky & Telescope, nine of the newly discovered satellites are quite far from Jupiter, orbiting in retrograde, in the opposite direction of Jupiter’s rotation.

It’s not strange; Most of Jupiter’s moons are retrograde. This movement means they were probably passing rocks that were captured by Jupiter’s gravity and remained in orbit.

Three other satellites are closer to the planet and rotate in the same direction as Jupiter. These smaller moons are harder to see because Jupiter eclipses them, but they likely formed around Jupiter.

These satellites were seen in 2021 and 2022. Everything near Jupiter is moving in the same direction across the sky and the potential moon is at the same speed, but they take time to confirm.

Follow-up observations need to be made, a month later, and then a year later, to make sure the object is still there, still in orbit around Jupiter. These follow-up observations can also be used to map the object’s orbit.

This can tell us about the history of Jupiter and its moons.

For example, retrograde moons are thought to be the remains of three larger bodies that were captured in orbit around Jupiter and then disintegrated after colliding with other objects.

But one of the satellites discovered a few years ago, Valetudo, has a direct orbit that crosses the orbits of retrograde moons.

This suggests that retrograde moons may have been created by collisions with direct moons from orbit, similar to Valetudo. Finding more satellites will help either confirm or disprove this idea.

At the same time, it is very likely that there are many more satellites around Jupiter and Saturn that we have yet to find.

And really, it doesn’t matter which planet has more of them. In this whole race, there is only one clear winner: science.


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