Jupiter’s brief but glorious reign as planet with the most moons in our solar system collapsed this week as scientists confirmed the discovery of 62 new moons orbiting Saturn, bringing the ringed planet’s total to 145 moons.
That’s a huge leap ahead of Jupiter’s 95 confirmed moons — a total that eclipsed Saturn’s moon count for several months after 12 new moons were officially recognized orbiting Jupiter in late December. Saturn is now the first and only planet in the solar system with more than 100 known moons, according to researchers from the University of British Columbia (opens in a new tab) (UBC), which contributed to the new findings.
The team of international researchers made their detections using data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, between 2019 and 2021. By analyzing a wealth of sequential images taken on windows of 3-hour observation, the team identified 62 moons. that were previously too small or too dark to be detected. Some of the smaller moons were only 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) wide – a distance less than the length of the National Mall in Washington, DC
All of the 62 newly detected moons are “irregular moons,” meaning they follow distant, elliptical orbits around their host planet and often move retrograde — or in the opposite direction to Saturn’s rotation. Many of these bizarre tiny moons clump together in similar retrograde orbits, the researchers say, suggesting they may have come from a larger mother moon that split millions of years ago.
“As we push to the limits of modern telescopes, we find more and more evidence that a mid-sized moon orbiting Saturn was destroyed something like 100 million years ago,” Brett Gladman (opens in a new tab)professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UBC, said in a statement.
The new moons are set to be recognized later this month by the International Astronomical Union – a group of more than 12,000 scientists tasked with designating celestial bodies, among other things.
Jupiter could not be reached for comment.