The planets Jupiter and Saturn are locked in a bit of a battle — a battle over moons. A recent announcement brought the number of Saturn’s known moons to 82 — three more than Jupiter. But the search for moons around both worlds continues, so the lead may change hands many times in the coming years.
Saturn’s new moons were discovered by a team led by Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution — the champions of modern-day moon hunters. Using the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, the team discovered 20 moons. None of them is much to get excited about, though — they average about three miles in diameter.
Most of the moons follow “retrograde” orbits — in the opposite direction from Saturn’s rotation on its axis. The moons probably are fragments of a single body. The parent was blasted to bits by a long-ago impact with another body.
The other moons orbit in the same direction as Saturn’s rotation. But each of them probably is a chip off another body as well.
None of the moons has yet been named. But a just-completed contest allowed the public to suggest names. The International Astronomical Union will announce the winners next year.
And Saturn itself is about to disappear in the evening twilight. It’s easy to spot over the next few nights, though, because it’s near Venus, the “evening star.” They’re quite low in the southwest shortly after sunset. Saturn stands beside Venus tonight, and will slip to the lower right of Venus over the following nights.
Script by Damond Benningfield