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Saturn Wins Moon Race

In the race for the title of the planet with the most moons, Saturn may have overtaken Jupiter for the final time.


Saturn's rings and some of its moons, as captured by the Cassini spacecraft in 2011
Saturn's rings and some of its moons, as captured by the Cassini spacecraft in 2011 | NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

Earlier this year, Jupiter had 12 new moons added to its total, which is now 95, making it our solar system’s frontrunner - Saturn only had 83 confirmed moons at the time. But over the last couple of weeks, astronomers have announced the discoveries of 62 additional moons of Saturn, raising its number to 145, according to the University of British Columbia in Canada.


Now, researchers think Jupiter has no chance to catch up. “Saturn will win by miles,” Mike Alexandersen, an astronomer who contributed to the findings, tells the New York Times. “I don’t think it’s a contest anymore.”


“Saturn not only has nearly doubled its number of moons, it now has more moons than all the rest of the planets in the solar system combined,” Brett Gladman, one of the researchers involved in the latest discovery told the Guardian.


The newly discovered satellites are all irregular moons, meaning that they have large and tilted orbits. They revolve around the planet from between six million and 18 million miles away.


Saturn now has 121 known irregular moons and 24 known regular moons. The smallest of the newly announced moons is just about 1.6 miles in diameter, while Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is 3,200 miles in diameter.


Titan, the first known moon of Saturn, was discovered in 1655 by the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, according to NASA. Then, Jean-Dominique Cassini detected four more between 1671 and 1684. Astronomers continued to discover more moons over the centuries. And from 2004 to 2017, a spacecraft named after Cassini studied Saturn up close and discovered more moons, according to the European Space Agency.

 
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