Jupiter may be called the “king of the planets,” but it looks like Saturn has the biggest following (for the time being, at least). New observations suggest that Saturn has over 100 confirmed moons – the most of any planet in the solar system, overtaking its old rival Jupiter.
The latest count comes from the Minor Planet Center, the arm of the International Astronomical Union that’s tasked with documenting minor planets.
As first reported by New Scientist, the observation of 28 new natural satellites around Saturn means the ringed planet has a total of 117. By comparison, Jupiter currently has 95 recognized moons.
Saturn and Jupiter are the two most massive planets in our solar system, meaning they also wield a hell of a lot of gravitational pull that’s able to wrangle passing space rocks into their orbit.
Among the many moons of these two gas titans are some of the most fascinating in the solar system, including Saturn's Enceladus – a strong candidate for potentially hosting extraterrestrial life – and Jupiter’s Ganymede – the largest moon in our solar system with its own magnetic field.
However, the question of how many moons follow this giant duo is not straightforward. Firstly, there’s some debate about what defines a moon. Where do we draw the line between a tiny space rock trapped in a planet’s orbit and a moon? In terms of size, there’s no strict definition of what makes a moon.
Saturn is a particularly interesting example as it is famously circled by a beautiful ring made from billions of small chunks of ice and rock. However, for now, we don’t define these as moons.
Secondly, astronomers are constantly making new observations of natural satellites orbiting planets, and there are currently hundreds of candidate moons for Jupiter and Saturn that are waiting to be confirmed.
As such, the title of the planet with the most moons often swings back and forwards between Saturn and Jupiter.
Back in February 2023, the Minor Planet Center (MPC) reportedly identified 12 previously unreported moons of Jupiter, bringing its total to 92. Since Saturn only had 83 confirmed moons at the time, Jupiter has been heralded as the holder of the "most moons in the Solar System" title. Clearly, it didn’t hold that record for long.
To make matters even thornier, it's expected that even more moons of Saturn are to be confirmed in the next few days.
In other words, the rivalry between Saturn and Jupiter is unlikely to be settled anytime soon. For the time being, however, Saturn can enjoy its place in the sun.