Goodbye Saturn, hello Jupiter: the gas giant became the planet with the most moons in the Solar System, after the findings confirmed by the Center for Minor Planets of the International Astronomical Union.
For a long time, Saturn was considered the planet with the most moons, with 83. But Jupiter, which had 80, went on top when it was discovered that it had 12 more.
These were encountered by telescopes located in Hawaii and Chile in 2021 and 2022: their orbits were confirmed with follow-up observations.
Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, reported observations of the System in the past two years that revealed Jupiter’s new moons.
According to the portal Sky and Telescope, “All of the newly discovered moons are small and far away, taking more than 340 days to orbit Jupiter.”
Nine of the 12 are among the outermost 71 moons, with orbits longer than 550 days.
The number of moons on Jupiter may rise much higher in the future
But how did these moons originate? It is explained by the astronomer Sheppard in Sky and Telescope.
“The smaller moons probably formed when collisions fragmented larger objects,” Sheppard said.
The discovery may be decisive for overflights in upcoming missions. Towards Jupiter, will be launched:
- In April 2023, the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) of the European Space Agency.
- By 2024, NASA’s Europa Clipper.
- In the 2030s, a Chinese mission whose details will be forthcoming.
According to CNET, it is quite possible that the total count of Jovian satellites is even higher. “The glow of the huge planet can make it particularly difficult to detect small objects,” the portal indicates, “which makes it possible for several tiny, smaller and invisible moons to also surround the giant, waiting to be discovered.”