DISCOVERY | 20 new moons puts Saturn ahead of Jupiter

This NASA image shows how during super-close flybys of Saturn's rings – the rings and the moons depicted in this illustration are not to scale. (Handout, NASA-JPL, Caltech, AFP)
This NASA image shows how during super-close flybys of Saturn's rings – the rings and the moons depicted in this illustration are not to scale. (Handout, NASA-JPL, Caltech, AFP)

The solar system has a new winner in the moon department.

Twenty new moons have been found around Saturn, giving the ringed planet a total of 82. That beats Jupiter and its 79 moons. 

The discovery was announced on Monday by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre.

If it's any consolation to the Jupiter crowd, our solar system's biggest planet - Jupiter - still has the biggest moon. Jupiter's Ganymede is almost half the size of Earth.

By contrast, Saturn's 20 new moons are minuscule, each barely 5km in diameter.

Seventeen of them orbit the planet backwards, or in a retrograde direction, according to the Carnegie Institution for Science's Scott Sheppard, who led the discovery team. 

The new moons were discovered using the Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. 

Sheppard said 100 even tinier moons may be orbiting Saturn, still waiting to be found.

"Using some of the largest telescopes in the world, we are now completing the inventory of small moons around the giant planets," said Sheppard.

"They play a crucial role in helping us determine how our Solar System's planets formed and evolved."

Carnegie also announced an online contest to name the newly discovered moons. 

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