Prior to this finding, Saturn had 83 moons recognised by the International Astronomical Union. The new batch takes the total number of Saturn’s moons to an incredible 145. Earlier, Jupiter had dethroned Saturn as the moon king after it added 12 moons to its tally in February, taking its total to 95 moons that were formally designated by the IAU.
The new moons were discovered by a team led by Edward Ashton, a postdoctoral fellow at the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, who used a technique called “shift and stack” to find these smaller and fainter moons around Saturn. The technique uses a set of images shifting at the same speed at which a moon moves through the sky to enhance the signal from that moon.
Moons that are too faint to be seen in single images can reveal themselves in the “stacked image”. Ashton, who started the research project with his team at University of British Columbia, used data taken from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) located on top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, between 2019 and 2021.
Astronomers had earlier used the “shift and stack” method to search for moons around the ice giants Neptune and Uranus, but this is the first time it has been applied to the solar system’s second-largest planet.
All of the new moons are in the class of irregular moons, which are characterised by their large, elliptical and inclined orbits compared to regular moons. The irregular moons tend to clump together into orbital groups based on the tilt of their orbits.
The new moons, which have been assigned strings of numbers and letters for now, will eventually be given names based on Gallic, Norse and Canadian Inuit gods, in keeping with convention for Saturn’s moons.