Astronomers have announced that Jupiter is now the planet in our Solar System with the most moons.
Saturn and Jupiter have been in a battle for the most moons for quite some time now. In 2019, Saturn took the title from Jupiter, however, astronomers have now counted 12 previously unknown moons in orbit around Jupiter; the Solar System’s largest planet.
The current known total of Jupiter’s moons is now 92, while Saturn currently has 83 known moons.
According to Science Alert, the observations were led by Scott Sheppard, an astronomer for Carnegie Institution for Science. The new findings have been published by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, which is known for keeping records of all the small bodies newly discovered in the Solar System.
“Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant Solar System objects,” Sheppard said back in 2018 when his team initially discovered a dozen new moons orbiting the planet.
These planet’s moons are quite small and dim, making them difficult to see, which is why it makes sense that we’re continuously discovering new ones.
According to Sky & Telescope, “nine of the newly discovered moons are quite distant from Jupiter, orbiting in a retrograde motion, the opposite direction to Jupiter’s rotation.
This is not weird; most of Jupiter’s moons are retrograde. This motion means they were probably passing rocks that were snared by Jupiter’s gravity and remained in orbit.”
The additional three moons are closer to Jupiter, and orbiting in the same direction as the planet. Jupiter itself is also extremely bright, so seeing the newer moons has been a challenge due to how dim they are.
The newly discovered moons were initially spotted in 2021 and 2022, however, it takes time to confirm that these small planetary objects are actually moons. Follow-up observations need to be done both one month and one year after the initial sightings, which is also helpful for tracking the orbits of them.
According to these reports, it’s very possible that there are even more moons surrounding both Jupiter and Saturn that are yet to be discovered. For now Jupiter holds the lead for Solar System planets with the moons, and only time, and scientific discovery, will tell whether or not it remains in that position.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.