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New Moons

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM (STARS); ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF CARNEGIE INSTITUTION (MOON ORBITS); NASA/JPL/CALTECH SPACE SCIENCE INSTITUTE (SATURN)

Scientists have long thought Jupiter had the most moons of any planet in our solar system. That is until this past October. Astronomers announced they’d spotted 20 previously undiscovered moons orbiting, or revolving around, Saturn. That brings its total number of moons to 82, overtaking Jupiter’s 79.

The new moons are only about 5 kilometers (3 miles) in diameter. For comparison, our moon is 3,475 km (2,159 mi) wide. Scientists found the tiny objects using a special telescope that detects infrared light—an invisible heat energy. This type of instrument allows astronomers to spot things in space that don’t give off visible light.

The small moons likely broke off a larger moon that smashed apart in a collision long ago, says Scott Sheppard, of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. He led the team that made the discovery. Moons like these “play a crucial role in helping us determine how our solar system’s planets formed,” says Sheppard.

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