The Solar System

How many moons does Saturn have?
Answered by Science Channel
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    Science Channel

  1. Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and though it might not have the most moons of any planet in our solar system, there is a lot going on around the ringed planet. Scientists have discovered and named 53 moons orbiting Saturn. Another nine provisional moons await confirmation and naming [source: NASA]. The first of Saturn's moons was discovered in 1655 by Christian Huygens; it was named Titan. In fact, all of Saturn's moons are named for mythological figures, the normal naming system for most planetary moons. Giovanni Domenico Cassini discovered four more of Saturn's moons within the next few decades, and another four were discovered before the 1900s, after which telescopic power improved vastly.

    Titan is the largest of Saturn's moons, and is even larger than the planet Mercury (but much smaller than Saturn itself), at 3,200 miles (5,149 kilometers) across [source: Grossman]. The huge moon, along with the much smaller moon, Rhea, was photographed by NASA's aptly named Cassini orbiter in June 2011. Both of these moons could theoretically host life forms because of clues that reveal oxygen or hydrocarbon in their atmospheres and water on their surfaces [source: Grossman]. Other Saturn moons include Mimus, Tethys, Janus and Enceladus. It is on Enceladus, Saturn's sixth largest moon, that Cassini recently revealed detailed images showing the icy moon's texture. The images show grooves around Enceladus' polar region and new intricate patterns. The planet already is known for having large fissures on its surface that shoot up plumes of ice particles and water vapor; scientists call the fissures "tiger stripes" [source:].

    The features, sizes and orbits of Saturn's many moons vary. Mimas appears to have been split by a massive impact, and has a large crater on one side. Iapetus is bright on one side and totally darn on the other [source: NASA]. Hyperion is like a spongy rock and is shaped irregularly, not as a nice round circle [source: Brown]. Some of the smallest moons orbit within the rings of Saturn, and 16 of the planet's moons always face toward the planet as they orbit, just like Earth's moon. Several of the more recently discovered moons orbit in the opposite direction of the planet's larger moons.

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