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Credit: B. Gladman (Observatoire de la Cote d'Azur) et al.,
European Southern Observatory
Explanation: Which planet has the most moons? For now, it's Saturn. Four newly discovered satellites bring the ringed planet's total to twenty-two, just edging out Uranus' twenty-one for the most known moons in the solar system. Of course, the newfound Saturnian satellites are not large and photogenic. The faint S/2000 S 1, the first discovered in the year 2000, is the tiny dot indicated at the lower right of this August 7th image made with the ESO 2.2 metre telescope at La Silla, Chile. (An eye-catching spiral galaxy at the upper left is in the very distant background!) Unlike Saturn's larger moons whose almost circular orbits lie near the planet's equatorial plane, all four newly discovered moons have irregular, skewed orbits drifting far from the planet. With sizes in the 10 to 50 kilometre range, they are are likely captured asteroids. The international team of astronomers involved in the discoveries hopes to get many observations of the tiny satellites allowing accurate orbital computations before Saturn is lost in the solar glare around March 2001. The team has also found several other irregular satellite candidates which are now being followed. Saturn's only previously known irregular satellite is Phoebe, discovered over 100 years ago by W. H. Pickering,
Authors & editors:
Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.