New Saturn moons are discovered

Astronomers using telescopes on Mauna Kea have found another dozen moons circling &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Saturn, bringing the total number of known moons orbiting the planet to 46.

Co-discoverer David Jewitt of the University of Hawai'i said the "irregular" moons may help solve the mystery of how the largest planets in the solar system managed to trap passing objects and hold them as satellites. Since such captures would be impossible under the conditions in the solar system today, study of the new moons could provide hints about what conditions were like at the time the satellites were trapped, which happened at about the same time as the planets formed.

Jewitt, a UH physics and astronomy professor, said the new finds were made Dec. 12 using a wide-field camera on the nearly 27-foot-diameter Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea. They were confirmed in recent months with observations by the Subaru and the Gemini North and the W.M. Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, informs the Honolulu Advertiser.

Because scientists have only recently begun to study captured moons up close -- for instance, with the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Cassini spacecraft -- they have yet to perfect a model for how planets capture objects and turn them into moons.

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