Four New Moons Spotted around Saturn
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 20 Dec 100 15:49:46 -0800
Subject: Four New Moons Spotted around Saturn
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December 15, 2000
Web posted at: 10:33 AM EST (1533 GMT)
By Richard Stenger
(CNN) -- Astronomers have detected four additional moons orbiting Saturn,
raising the total number of known satellites around the gas giant to 28,
far surpassing any other planet.
The discoveries sustain an unrivaled rush of new satellite sightings. The
official tally of known moons around Saturn has increased by ten in less
than three months.
The number around all giant planets has more than doubled during the past
18 months, according to the International Astronomical Union, which
announced the latest Saturn finds last week.
"The biggest problem now is coming up with names for all these things,"
quipped J.J. Kavelaars, who helped track down the 10 most recent Saturn
The Canadian astronomer and his colleagues detected a flurry of small and
eccentric moons in late September using a large telescope atop Mauna Kea,
Since then the international team has steadily confirmed their existence
with observations from telescopes in Chile and California.
"There is a reason that they are coming out in drips and drabs," Kavelaars
said. "We found them all with the telescope in Hawaii. They are very
faint so it's taken some time to see them again with other telescopes."
They are quite different than their much larger, better known satellite
cousins. Their orbits are highly inclined relative to Saturn's equator and
rings. Moreover, some are highly elliptical. Some orbit in the same
direction as Saturn spins. Others go around in the opposite direction.
The moons orbit Saturn from a distance between 10 million and 20 million
kilometers (6.2 million and 12.4 million miles). Astronomers estimate that
they range in diameter from 50 km (31 miles) to only several kilometers.
Their unusual orbits suggest that Saturn captured the satellites after it
formed. Some astronomers speculate that they were once Centuaurs, a group
of diminutive ice objects that orbit the sun between Saturn and Uranus.
The latter gas planet has the second highest number of satellites in the
solar system, 21. Continued observations of Saturn could increase its
commanding lead in the satellite deparment, Kavelaars said.
"I wouldn't be surprised if there are a couple more we can pull out in the
data set in the not so distant future."
© 2000 Peter Langston