All hail Saturn, moon king once more

Just when Jupiter had wrested the mantle as the solar system’s most mooned planet, Saturn has swooped in to reclaim its title.

An international team of researchers from the Academia Sinica Institute, University of British Columbia, Harvard Smithsonian Centre and Besancon Observatory identified 62 moons orbiting Saturn, bringing the total number of celestial satellites circling the planet to 145.

It comes just months after a dozen new moons were detected orbiting Jupiter, announced in February.

All 62 newly observed Saturnian moons are classed as irregular, due to their inclined and elliptical orbits at a substantially greater distance from the host planet than other, regular moons.

The findings were made using a ‘shift and stack’ technique previously employed to scour Uranus and Neptune’s neighbourhoods for moons.

Saturn’s rings much younger than planet itself

It involves taking a sequence of images along a moon’s predicted path and then stacking these atop each other to enhance the visibility of a space body. This technique helps to provide clarity to very small objects in orbit around distant planets. It’s also a technique that is used to image the depths of space beyond Neptune for a hypothesised ‘Planet X’ also orbiting our sun.

Described by the researchers as a painstaking process, the researchers spent two years verifying the pathways imaged over different nights.

“Tracking these moons makes me recall playing the kid’s game dot-to-dot, because we have to connect the various appearances of these moons in our data with a viable orbit, but with about 100 different games on the same page and you don’t know which dot belongs to which puzzle,” says the project’s lead scientist Dr Edward Ashton.

The new discoveries will be named after Gallic, Inuit and Norse gods as is conventional for irregular Saturnian moons. 

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