New Moons Over Saturn

    May 9, 2005

Scientists in Hawaii discovered 12 new moons bringing Saturn’s total to 46. Scientists from the University of Hawaii using the Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea spotted the natural satellites back in December.

University of Hawaii astronomer David Jewitt was a co-discoverer on the team and made the discovery on December 12 of last year. According to Jewitt, the new find will help advance their understanding of the solar system and its origins. He said on his website:

These new discoveries improve our knowledge of the satellite system and should, eventually, lead to an understanding of the origin of the irregular satellites. Already we have found that the most studied capture model offers no explanation for the systematics of the irregular satellite populations. Most surprisingly, we have found that the four giant planets all possess about the same number of irregular satellites when measured down to a given size, independent of planet mass, location, or formation mode. This observation remains unexplained.

The newly discovered moons fall into the irregular satellite category. Most regular satellites, scientists theorize, were essentially created from dust and other particles that got hung up with Saturn in the early days. They also have a pretty circular orbit around the big gas giant. The irregular moons they believe were captured at some point and they’re not as large (the current stock averaged a couple of miles). They also have odd orbits and in some cases, as with 11 of the 12 discovered, have orbits running counter to the spin of Saturn. Only one other moon had this characteristic prior to this discovery. They’re still working on the theory as to why these satellites go backward.

Much of Saturn research is new and with the Cassini probe, scientists are gathering a tremendous amount of new information regarding the second largest planet in our system.

John Stith is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.