The gas giant planet named Saturn has been studied for a very long time. Over hundreds of years, numerous moons have been discovered in Saturn’s orbit. Currently, there are a total of 82 recorded moons around Saturn.
One can’t help to wonder, why does Saturn have so many moons? It should be noted that Saturn has a larger volume of space and gravitational pull in the outer solar system than other planets. Over time, Saturn has locked many passing objects in its orbit, creating new moons.
So it’s mostly due to its sheer size.
It makes sense when you think about it.
Let us now explore these moons – it’s very interesting, I can assure you!
How Did Saturn Get Its Moons?
Based on the data astronomers have gathered for hundreds of years, it’s believed that Saturn’s moons were formed by larger bodies colliding, sending debris in many directions, and getting caught in Saturn’s orbit.
Over millions and millions of years, this debris became the moons we know today, still collecting passing materials in space.
Over time, the moons grew in size due to the particles in Saturn’s ring.
It’s known that ring particles become bound to a larger “seed” that has the density of water ice.
Considering water ice can be found on many of the surrounding moons, new material easily collects over millions of years, whether it’s within Saturn’s ring or near it.
For reference, to create a moon with a 19-mile moon would require a 6-mile “seed.”
Although passing material and asteroids are factors in Saturn’s moons, the rings themselves can create moons over time with the constant movement and collision of materials.
Although there are many explanations for the creation of Saturn’s moons, these are all based on current data and knowledge and are subject to change with future discoveries.
The type of moon that’s created is dependent on how it was made.
For example, the moons passing by and getting latched into Saturn’s orbit are known as irregular moons.
Because of how these moons were made, they have their distinctive characteristics; small size, large radii, primarily retrograde orbits, and inclined.
Even with the immense amount of information we have on Saturn, much of its formation is a mystery.
Residing in such a cold place in our solar system can make one assume it’s just full of cold and cratered rocks.
With recent discoveries and the crucial data collected from Cassini, we now understand this is far from the case.
How Many Moons Does Saturn Have?
At this time, Saturn has 82 recorded moons, according to NASA. Some are still being reviewed for confirmation, as there are only 53 that have been named and confirmed. There are still 29 moons awaiting confirmation and naming.
Each moon’s various size and shape is a collection of material from Saturn’s magnetosphere and its rings.
Saturn, alongside Jupiter, has a strong gravitational pull, which collects many passing objects in its orbit.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spent around a decade orbiting Saturn, gathering as much information as possible.
It discovered that there are many varying factors to each moon and its properties.
For example, Titan is Saturn’s largest moon and has been found to have liquid ethane and methane on its surface.
This moon is the only other known place in our solar system with liquid collecting on its surface.
The Cassini spacecraft also discovered a liquid water ocean below the frozen surface of Titan.
Although unique indeed, this is only 1 of 82 moons around Saturn with vast similarities.
Saturn currently has the most moons out of any planet in our solar system.
It wasn’t until 2019 that this was the case when astronomers announced 20 new moons for Saturn.
Previously, Jupiter had the most at 79 moons.
Considering how these moons came to be, it can only be assumed that more moons will be discovered in time.
As usual, astronomers are always looking for potential signs of life, and water is a good start.
In this part of the solar system, it’s so far away from our Sun that it’s not uncommon to find many asteroids, debris, and even moons to be made partially or entirely of ice.
Some may be a collection of materials over time, but some, like Titan, may hold more answers to their history than we know.
Saturn is the second-largest planet in our solar system.
Even though 82 moons may sound like a lot, this planet has a lot more space in its orbit.
Saturn’s rings have something called moonlets made up of large chunks of ice and rock outside of the known moons themselves.
These objects are big enough to cause gravitational changes but help shape Saturn’s rings as well.
Some of these moonlets come from past collisions in Saturn’s rings. Colliding materials formed larger objects within the rings, eventually causing NASA to pick up on changes in gravitation.
What Are Saturn’s Moons Like?
The majority of Saturn’s moons are bodies of ice, primarily due to how cold it is in this part of the solar system. Although the moons have many things in common, they have been separated into many different groups.
The large inner moons are known to have an icy crust and mantle with a core made more of rock.
These moons orbit within Saturn’s E Ring and include the names Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, and Mimas. Enceladus, in particular, has large geysers on its surface that release gas, water, ice, and dust that replenishes Saturn’s E Ring.
With similar builds and material combinations as the inner moons, the large outer moons sit outside of Saturn’s E Ring.
This is where the large moons Hyperion and Titan are located, among others.
Hyperion is known for being odd in its looks and shape as it has a very porous surface and a tan, ovoid body.
Some of the craters that caused the surface damage can be up to 10km in diameter.
Titan, of course, being the largest, is 5,150km in diameter.
It also comprises around 96% of the mass in Saturn’s orbit.
It’s thought that Titan has a subsurface ocean that’s has a mix of ammonia.
Interestingly enough, this can lead to an eruption and cause cryovolcanism.
This creates a volcano that erupts methane, water, or ammonia instead of lava.
Once you go past the larger outer moons, you enter the irregular moon region.
These moons are broken down into three main groups; the Gallic Group, Inuit Group, and the Norse Group.
The Gallic is made up of four moons named; Bebhionn, Tarvos, Erriapus, and Albiorix.
All named after characters in Gallic mythology, the moons are similar in appearance, with inclinations in the 35-40 degree range.
The Inuit Group consists of 5 moons, all named from Inuit mythology, and have orbits that range from roughly 11 to 17.9 million km.
This group contains 29 retrograde outer moons, the Norse Group of moons are named after Norse mythology and is often referred to as the Phoebe group.
This is due to a larger moon in the group that has a measurement of 240km in diameter.
Some moons in Saturn’s orbit are large enough that they have their own smaller moons.
These, in particular, are called Trojan moons, and two of these moons are found surrounding the moon Tethys named Calypso and Telesto.
82 moons and counting.
That is where we are currently at.
But do not expect that number to remain for too long – we are expecting more!
Well, it is all due to the gravitational pull of the behemoth that is Saturn.
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Hey, my name is Jeremy. I’m a passionate and seasoned astronomer who loves nothing more than observing the night sky. I also love researching, learning, and writing all things Space and the Universe. I created Astronomy Scope to share my knowledge, experience, suggestions, and recommendations of what I have learned along the way while helping anyone to get into and maximize their enjoyment of the hobby.