How does one go about submitting a name for a newly-discovered lunar crater?

How does one go about submitting a name for a newly-discovered lunar crater?

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Suppose I discover an uncatalogued crater on the lunar surface, and decide to name it. How would I submit my proposed name to the IAU?

To directly answer your question, the other answer is correct: The United States Geologic Survey's Astrobiology office handles ad hoc US submissions to the International Astronomical Union's nomenclature committee, so their form is what you would need to fill out. Nomenclature across the solar system has been set by the IAU to follow themes based on feature types and sizes, which must be followed, and one also needs to follow the IAU rules and conventions on assigning names.

With that in mind, planetary nomenclature is not something that someone just opts to do. Just because you see something on a planetary surface, that does not mean (a) you can name it, nor does it (b) mean that it even will receive a name. As the third link notes:

The number of names chosen for each body should be kept to a minimum. Features should be named only when they have special scientific interest, and when the naming of such features is useful to the scientific and cartographic communities at large.

So if the feature you are interested in naming does not meet those criteria (in addition to all the others), it will not receive an official name. The purpose of this sort of restriction is to keep things simple. Because of this, names really are only considered when submitted by members of the scientific community, since they are the ones who most commonly use them. That is why the request form (first link) requires you to put your professional affiliation and why students must have an accompanying letter of support by their advisor. Similarly, that form requires a statement of justification that explains why the feature to be named, and the name itself, all fit those requirements.

With respect to craters, are you sure that what you have identified on the lunar surface is uncatalogued? Speaking as someone who does crater database generation as part of my day job, if the crater is larger than about 0.5 km, it's probably already been catalogued by me or someone else, and there are numerous not-so-obviously-published databases that include hundreds of thousands of smaller craters. That also means that caution should be used when saying that you have found something not yet catalogued by someone else. There was an AI-crater-detection paper that got a lot of press about two years ago with headlines proclaiming, "AI Discovers 6000 New Craters on the Moon" or variants thereof. The problem with that headline is that those craters simply were not in an incomplete database they used for comparison, but they were well catalogued by numerous other people.

As a side note, while there are >2 million craters in my public database, it's important to note that the IAU has only formally named 1628 craters, at the time of this posting, due to those restrictions of "useful to the scientific and cartographic communities at large." Even the newly discovered craters seen by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which often get press releases and are of interest scientifically, are not named.

Finally, my answer is not meant to discourage you, but rather to explain the process and the reason behind it, and to caution you when you say that you have discovered something not previously catalogued - proving a negative (that it's not been seen before) is quite difficult.

You use this from You need to follow the rules as set out in as well as following the themes for naming Moon based features

What has China’s rover found on the moon’s far side?

Tracks from China’s Yutu-2 rover approaching the crater where the rover has reportedly discovered a “gel-like” substance on the far side of the moon. Few details are known at this point. Image via China Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP)/

What has China’s Yutu-2 rover discovered on the far side of the moon? That is a question a lot of people are asking after an intriguing report came out from a few days ago, which referenced a “gel-like” substance discovered in a small crater. Not many details are known right now, but there are some possible clues, as provided by planetary scientists who have commented on the finding.

The discovery was published in the “Drive Diary” for Yutu-2 (literally “Jade Rabbit”) in the Chinese government-sanctioned publication Our Space, on August 17, 2019. It was also tweeted by the state-run People’s Daily newspaper.

Yutu-2, the follow-up to the first Yutu rover and part of the Chang’e 4 mission, first made the discovery back on July 25, day 8 of its mission. Previous driving plans were postponed, so scientists could take a better look at the material with the rover’s instruments. The oddity was first noticed by mission team member Yu Tianyi while he was checking images from the main camera on the rover. There were many small craters around, but one of them looked unusual, containing something with an unexpected color and luster.

Yutu-2 rover, part of China’s Chang’e-4 mission, has discovered an unusually colored “gel-like” substance during its exploration activities on the far side of the moon. Mission scientists are now trying to figure out what the mysterious material is. What do you think it is?

&mdash People's Daily, China (@PDChina) September 2, 2019

The material has been described as gel-like, but it should be noted that the actual appearance still isn’t known for certain yet. As others have noted, it’s possible that this is a mistranslation from Chinese reports. Some planetary scientists have speculated that what has been found may be impact melt glass from a meteorite strike (and the substance is in a crater) or perhaps volcanic glass from an ancient volcanic explosion. Both of those have been found before on the moon, including by Apollo astronauts.

According to Mahesh Anand, a planetary scientist at the Open University in the United Kingdom, in Newsweek:

The fact that it has been observed associated with a small impact crater, this finding could be extremely exciting as it would indicate that a very different material could just be hiding underneath the very top surface. This would assume even a greater significance if these material turn out to have experienced interaction with water-ice (as the possibility of existence of water-ice in the top few meters of the lunar south polar region is predicted on the basis of recent remote sensing dataset).

As Walter Freeman, a physicist at Syracuse University, also noted:

We have lots of processes on Earth that cause interesting geology: the action of water, wind, and volcanism. But the moon has none of these, so meteorite impacts are the main thing that reshapes its surface. There’s a bit of precedent for this on Earth: at the site where the first nuclear bomb was tested in New Mexico, there is a glassy mineral called “trinitite” formed from the heat of the explosion. The same thing happens around meteorite impacts here.

In 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts discovered unusual orange-colored soil on the moon. Could the Chinese rover discovery be of something similar? Image via NASA/

In Our Space, the material was described as being significantly different from the surrounding lunar soil in shape and color, but not specifically how.

Both the material and the crater itself were examined with the rover’s Visible and Near-Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS) instrument, which detects light that is scattered or reflected, to reveal their makeup. As previously reported, VNIS also detected material that originated from the lunar mantle, in the regolith of Von Kármán crater. That discovery was announced last May.

Is this new material the same or similar to what was found in Von Kármán crater? We don’t know yet, and there is still little information to go on. It would be odd if it actually was gel-like, but at the moment, most other scientists think that it is probably more like impact melt or volcanic glass. We don’t even know the specific color yet, other than it is “unusual.”

Could it also be similar to what Apollo 17 astronauts found in 1972? They discovered orange-colored soil near the Taurus-Littrow landing site, created during a volcanic eruption 3.64 billion years ago.

View of the Yutu-2 rover as it rolled off the Chang’e-4 lander last January. Image via China National Space Administration (CNSA)/The Hindu.

So far, there haven’t been any photos or analysis results released of the “gel” itself, so we will just have to wait for more information.

The Yutu-2 rover will now continue its journey west of the landing site. What else might it find? Yutu-2 was launched in December 2018 on the Chang’e 4 lander, landing in Aitken Basin near the south pole of the moon in January, and is the first rover to explore the far side of our closest celestial neighbor. As Zou Yongliao at the Chinese Academy of Sciences told Xinhua:

The far side of the moon has unique features never before explored on site. The exploration of this virgin land by Chang’e-4 might bring breakthrough findings.

For now, the “moon gel” finding remains a mystery, but stay tuned for further updates when more information becomes available.

Bottom line: The Chinese rover Yutu-2 has discovered an unusual “gel-like” material on the far side of the moon, according to state-run sources. But details are limited right now as to what it might actually be.


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LCROSS, in full Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, U.S. spacecraft that was deliberately crashed into the Moon on October 9, 2009, resulting in the discovery of subsurface water. LCROSS was launched on June 18, 2009, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on an Atlas rocket that also carried the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a spacecraft designed to map the surface of the Moon.

LCROSS remained attached to the 2.2-ton Centaur upper stage of the Atlas rocket and flew by the Moon on June 23. It and the Centaur upper stage entered an orbit in which they completed one revolution around Earth in approximately 36 days. On October 8 the Centaur upper stage separated from LCROSS and traveled toward Cabeus, a crater at the Moon’s south pole. Since the floor of Cabeus is permanently in shadow, it was thought that water might survive there as ice just underneath the surface. Such water would be useful for future crewed lunar missions. Nearly 10 hours later the Centaur upper stage hit the Moon at a speed of 9,000 km (5,600 miles) per hour. LCROSS flew through the impact plume, analyzing its composition, and crashed on the Moon four minutes later. Subsequent analysis of the plume revealed that the lunar soil at the bottom of Cabeus was 5.6 percent water ice.

Big Discovery: Scientists find presence of water on sunlit surface of Moon

Washington: Scientists have confirmed, for the first time, the presence of water on the sunlit surface of the Moon, a discovery which indicates that water molecules may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to the cold, shadowed places as previously thought.

Using NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the researchers, including those from the University of Hawaii in the US, detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater -- one of the largest craters visible from the Earth, located in the Moon's southern hemisphere.

While earlier studies of the Moon's surface, including those conducted during the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Chandrayaan-1 mission, detected some form of hydrogen, the NASA scientists said these were unable to distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH).

Data from the current study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, revealed that the Clavius Crater region has water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million -- roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water -- trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface.

As a comparison, the researchers said the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water than what SOFIA detected in the lunar soil.

" Despite the small amounts, they said the discovery raises new questions about how water is created and how it persists on the harsh, airless lunar surface. "

- Discovery Raises New Questions

"Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration. But we didn't know how much, if any, was actually water molecules -- like we drink every day -- or something more like drain cleaner," said Casey Honniball, the lead author of the study from the University of Hawaii.

Despite the small amounts, they said the discovery raises new questions about how water is created and how it persists on the harsh, airless lunar surface.

"We had indications that H2O -- the familiar water we know -- might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon. Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration," said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Whether the water SOFIA found is easily accessible for use as a resource remains to be determined, the researchers added.

" The scientists believe several forces could be at play in the delivery or creation of water. One possibility could be from micrometeorites raining down on the lunar surface, carrying small amounts of water. "

According to the scientists, SOFIA offered a new means of looking at the Moon, flying at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet.

They said the modified Boeing 747SP jetliner with a 106-inch diameter telescope reaches above 99 per cent of the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere to get a clearer view of radiation from the universe in the infrared wavelength.

Using its Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST), the researchers said SOFIA was able to pick up the specific wavelength unique to water molecules and discovered a relatively surprising concentration in the sunny Clavius Crater.

"Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space. Yet somehow we're seeing it. Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there," Honniball said.

The scientists believe several forces could be at play in the delivery or creation of this water.

One possibility they said could be from micrometeorites raining down on the lunar surface, carrying small amounts of water, which may deposit the water on the lunar surface upon impact.

" The water could be trapped into tiny beadlike structures in the soil that form out of the high heat created by micrometeorite impacts. "

The researchers hypothesised that there may also be a two-step process whereby the Sun's solar wind delivers hydrogen to the lunar surface and causes a chemical reaction with oxygen-bearing minerals in the soil to create hydroxyl.

Meanwhile, they said radiation from the bombardment of micrometeorites could be transforming that hydroxyl into water.

Commenting on how the water was stored on the lunar surface, the scientists noted that the water could be trapped into tiny beadlike structures in the soil that form out of the high heat created by micrometeorite impacts.

Another possibility is that the water could be hidden between grains of lunar soil and sheltered from the sunlight --potentially making it a bit more accessible than water trapped in beadlike structures, they noted in a statement.

"It was, in fact, the first time SOFIA has looked at the Moon, and we weren't even completely sure if we would get reliable data, but questions about the Moon's water compelled us to try," said Naseem Rangwala, SOFIA's project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in the US.

"It's incredible that this discovery came out of what was essentially a test, and now that we know we can do this, we're planning more flights to do more observations," Rangwala added.

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Lava Tube Openings Found Near the Moon’s North Pole

Between NASA, the Chinese National Space Agency, the European Space Agency and Roscosmos, there’s no shortage of plans for returning to the Moon and creating a permanent base there. Naturally, these plans have given rise to questions of where such bases should be built. So far, the top contenders have been lava tubes that have been spotted in various locations across the surface of the Moon and in the polar regions.

Whereas the polar regions are permanently shaded and appear to have abundant ice water, stable lava tubes would offer protection against the elements and harmful radiation. However, according to a new discovery presented at NASA’s Lunar Science for Landed Missions Workshop, it appears that there is a location on the Moon that ticks off both boxes – a possible lava tube that is located in the norther polar region!

This discovery was detailed in an abstract titled “Philolaus Crater: Exploring Candidate Lava Tubes And Skylights Near The Lunar North Pole“. The author was Pascal Lee, the co-founder and chairman of the Mars Institute, a planetary scientist at the SETI Institute, and the Principal Investigator of the Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter image showing some of the newly discovered lava tube skylight candidates at Philolaus Crater near the North Pole of the Moon. Credit: NASA/LRO/SETI Institute/Mars Institute/Pascal Lee

These pits were identified based on an analysis of imaging data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). These images indicated the presence of small pits in the northeastern floor of the Philolaus Crater, a 70 km (43 mi)-diameter impact crater located about 550 km (340 mi) from the Moon’s North Pole. These pits could potentially be “skylights”, holes in the surface that lead to subterranean recesses.

Each pit appears to be a rimless depression measuring roughly 15 to 30 meters (50 to 11 ft) across and have shadowed interiors. Moreover, the pits are located along winding channels known as “sinous rilles” that are present along the floor of the Philolaus Crater. On the moon, these channels are thought to be the result of subterranean lava tubes that have since collapsed, or partially collapsed.

If water ice is present in the region, then these skylights could allow future explorers access to subsurface water ice that is less tainted by regolith. This presents a number of opportunities for research, and future long-term missions to the lunar surface. As Pascal Lee explained:

“The highest resolution images available for Philolaus Crater do not allow the pits to be identified as lava tube skylights with 100 percent certainty, but we are looking at good candidates considering simultaneously their size, shape, lighting conditions and geologic setting.”

In recent years, over 200 pits have been discovered by other researchers on the Moon, many of which were identified as possible skylights leading to underground lava tubes. However, this latest discovery is the first to place a possible skylight and lava tube within the Moon’s polar regions. These regions have become the focal point of research in recent years due to the fact that water ice is known to exist in the polar regions.

Within these permanently-shadowed cratered regions – particularly the South Pole-Aitken Basin – water ice is known to exist within the regolith. As a result, multiple proposals have been made to create lunar bases in the polar regions. However, there remains the challenge of how to get to that water (which would require drilling) and the fact that a permanently-shadowed region would not allow access to solar power.

This new discovery is therefore exciting for three reasons. For one, it would allow for much easier access to lunar polar ice that would be much more pure than anything drilled from the surface. Second, solar power would be available nearby, just outside each skylight. And third, these openings could provide access to a stable lava tube that contains water ice itself, much as lava tubes on Earth do.

Philolaus Crater also offers two additional bonuses when it comes a lunar settlement. Given that the crater formed in the Copernican Era (i.e. the last 1.1 billion years) it is relatively young as lunar craters go. As such, it would offer scientists with plenty of opportunities to study the Moon’s more recent geological history. Also, since the Philolaus Crater is on the near-side on the Moon, it would allow direct communications with Earth.

And as Lee added, a base in this location would also allow for some amazing views:

“We would also have a beautiful view of Earth. The Apollo landing sites were all near the Moon’s equator, such that the Earth was almost directly overhead for the astronauts. But from the Philolaus skylights, Earth would loom just over the crater’s mountainous rim, near the horizon to the southeast.”

Looking ahead, Lee and his colleagues indicate that further exploration is needed to verify whether or not these pits are lava tube skylights and whether or not they contain ice. In the future, astronauts and robots could be sent to the polar regions of the Moon in order to seek out and explore caves that have been identified from orbit. As Lee explained, this will have benefits that go far beyond lunar exploration.

“Exploring lava tubes on the Moon will also prepare us for the exploration of lava tubes on Mars,” he said. “There, we will face the prospect of expanding our search for life into the deeper underground of Mars where we might find environments that are warmer, wetter, and more sheltered than at the surface.”

And as Bill Diamond – president and CEO of the SETI Institute – explained, this discovery highlights the true nature of exploration, which goes well beyond orbiters and robotic explorers:

“This discovery is exciting and timely as we prepare to return to the Moon with humans. It also reminds us that our exploration of planetary worlds is not limited to their surface, and must extend into their mysterious interiors”.

The Lunar Science for Landed Missions Workshop was convened by the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center. The purpose of the workshop was to examine the range of scientific investigations that could be conducted on the Moon, including in-situ science, network science and sample return missions.

Requirements and Rules

This certification is available to members of the Astronomical League, either through their local astronomical society or as members at large. If you are not a member and would like to become one, check with your local astronomical society, search for a local society on the Astronomical League Website ( click here ), or join as a member at large ( click here ).

To earn a Lunar II Observing Program certificate and pin you must:

  1. Have previously completed all of the Lunar Observing Program requirements.
  2. Complete 100 or more of the observing tasks specified in the Lunar II target list.
  • Several targets must be observed twice, in different light and shadow conditions, as specified in the target list.
  • Several optional observing tasks are available, allowing you to make a few substitutions if you so choose.
  • Where this target list overlaps the Lunar Observing Program list, assume the Lunar II Observing Program requires more observations and deeper study than before. If previous log entries include all of the information required for Lunar II Observing Program, then they may also be used for this certification.

You may do this Observing Program visually or through imaging. To receive the imaging certification, you must meet all of the requirements using imaging. Your images may be submitted, but it is preferred that you post them on a webpage to be reviewed. You should include exposure information for the images and the number of images that were stacked. You may earn this certification both ways. You will receive two certificates, but only one pin will be awarded. The imaging awards wil have an "I" appended to the certif

3. Keep a detailed log of your observations.

a. Maintain a log similar to those required by most other League Observing P rograms. Logs may be kept on paper or in an electronic file.

b. Notes for all observations should include:

  • target name and/or number
  • date and time (either local or UT)
  • observing location(s) including Latitude and Longitude
  • sky conditions including Seeing and Transparency
  • equipment used (telescope and eyepiece, or telescope and camera)

Additionally, you should record:

  • both formal and common names of each target, if applicable. For example, Mare Crisium is also called the "Sea of Crises".
  • the lunar phase the observation was made at. Use either named phase (i.e., "waning gibbous moon") or lunation day (i.e., "16 day moon").

c. Log written descriptions and/or sketches, or images as specified in the target list. If you are not doing imaging, then written descriptions will be required for about three-quarters of your observations, and simple sketches will be required for the other one quarter. For the sketches, label any major feature your sketch includes, such as additional craters sketched, mountain chains or peaks, or other annotations that will explain certain features of the sketch, like "this area is very rough", or "top of crater has a flat ring". The goal here is to build observing and record keeping skills, not to make an artist of you.

4. Locate, identify, and observe individual lunar surface features personally. You may use telescopes with "Go To" capability or other forms of automation, provided that automation is not used for anything other than steering to the Moon itself. Computerized lunar charts are also permitted so long as they are not linked to identify features or to steer your telescope. Remote telescopes are permitted in this Observing Program.

NASA just discovered water on the Moon—in a crater named after a Jesuit priest

Left: In this early Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, file photo, a waning moon is seen at the sky over Frankfurt, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File) Right: A 16th century engraving of Christopher Clavius after a painting by Francisco Villamena. (Wikicommons)

On Oct. 26, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, announced the discovery of water on the moon. The water was discovered on the moon’s sunlit surface, which “indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places,” according to a press release.

NASA’s astrophysics director Paul Hertz said it is too soon to know whether this water—found in and around the southern hemisphere’s sunlit Clavius Crater—would be accessible. The surface could be harder there, ruining wheels and drills.

Still, the discovery is significant: Water resources can support future missions to the moon and, eventually, would be necessary for sustaining life. SOFIA plans to continue looking for additional locations of water on the moon and to study how the water is “produced, stored, and moved across the Moon.” Eventually, water resource maps of the moon will guide future space exploration.

The water was found in the Clavius Crater. Who was Christopher Clavius, S.J.?

The Clavius Crater on the moon’s southern hemisphere is visible from Earth because of its immense size. The crater is named after Christopher Clavius, S.J., a German Jesuit, astronomer and mathematician. Clavius was born in 1537, and he entered the Society of Jesus at the early age of 16. After studying in Portugal and Rome, he was ordained a priest in 1564.

The water was found in the Clavius Crater. So who was Christopher Clavius, S.J., and why is there a crater on the moon named after him?

His observance in 1560 of a total solar eclipse as a student inspired his life’s work: astronomy. Clavius is known for his work on refining and modifying the modern Gregorian calendar, and as Billy Critchley-Menor, S.J., wrote in America, Clavius was even called the “Euclid of the 16th century” before his death in 1612. He was one of the first mathematicians in the West to popularize the use of the decimal point, and his contributions to astronomy influenced Galileo, even though Clavius himself assented to a geocentric solar system, believing the heavens rotated around the Earth.

Nevertheless, he was one of several Jesuits who significantly influenced Galileo’s discoveries Paschal Scotti wrote in his 2017 book Galileo Revisited that “up until 1616 the Jesuits had been the greatest support to Galileo, and time and again he turned to them as the beacons of scientific excellence and integrity in all his difficulties.”

Jesuits are still looking to the stars

Clavius was an intellectual ancestor to many contemporary Jesuits who have built upon his work and the work of countless astronomers since. Many of these members of the Society of Jesus have been instrumental in the work of the Vatican Observatory, one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world.

Each piece of art and writing is circulated at Selection Circles where hundreds of women give us their opinions about the submitted works. If you are interested in joining a virtual Selection Circle, sign up for alerts via our newsletter. Our jury process is quite complicated which makes following the submissions guidelines important!

By crowdsourcing our jury process, we get to bring the opinions of hundreds (and maybe thousands, now that we will be having online Selection Circles) of other women into the production process. We bring to the foreground the most well-loved work, and those are the pieces we work with, primarily, during the creation of We'Moon in our small group process.

Which Planet Has The Most Moons? Stunning New Discovery Changes What We Know About The Solar System

20 new "outer" moons have been discovered around Saturn.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

Jupiter may be the undisputed king of the planets in the solar system, but its record of 79 moons has just been smashed after the announcement of a stunning 20 new outer moons at Saturn.

Previously thought to have 62 moons, the discovery puts the ringed planet's new total at a peerless 82 moons.

Announced Monday by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, all 20 are outer moons about three miles/five kilometers in diameter.

An artist’s conception of the 20 newly discovered moons orbiting Saturn. These discoveries bring the . [+] planet’s total moon count to 82, surpassing Jupiter for the most in our Solar System. Studying these moons can reveal information about their formation and about the conditions around Saturn at the time. Illustration is courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Saturn image is courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. Starry background courtesy of Paolo Sartorio/Shutterstock

Who found Saturn's new 'outer' moons?

A team led by the Carnegie Institution for Science's Scott S. Sheppard, the same team that discovered 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter. The observing team included Sheppard, David Jewitt of UCLA, and Jan Kleyna of the University of Hawaii.

The discovery images for the newly found very distant prograde moon of Saturn provisionally . [+] designated S/2004 S24. They were taken on the Subaru telescope with about one hour between each image. The background stars and galaxies do not move, while the newly discovered Saturnian moon, highlighted with an orange bar, shows motion between the two images.

What's weird about Saturn's new 'outer' moons?

A lot. For starters, 17 of the new moons orbit the planet backwards (opposite to Saturn's rotation) and take more than three years to orbit Saturn once. Meanwhile, two of the three that orbit in the same direction as Saturn are much closer and take just two years to complete an orbit.

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However, the researchers found that these outer moons orbit Saturn in three different clusters called, for naming reasons, Inuit, Norse and Gallic. “This kind of grouping of outer moons is also seen around Jupiter, indicating violent collisions occurred between moons in the Saturnian system or with outside objects such as passing asteroids or comets,” says Sheppard.

Saturn's new 'Inuit' moons

Inclined by 46 degrees to Saturn's orbit, two of the new moons that orbit in the same direction as Saturn are members of the Inuit group, which may have once been a larger moon that broke apart.

Saturn's new 'Norse' moons

The 17 retrograde moons fit with previous discoveries and are likely fragments from a once-larger parent moon that was broken apart. These retrograde moons are in the Norse group, with names coming from Norse mythology. One of the newly discovered retrograde moons is the furthest known moon around Saturn.

Saturn's new 'Gallic' moon

The final new moon is provisionally designated S/2004 S24. It orbits much farther away from Saturn than any of the other moons that orbit in the same direction as Saturn.

What do the new moons tell us about Saturn?

“Studying the orbits of these moons can reveal their origins, as well as information about the conditions surrounding Saturn at the time of its formation,” says Sheppard. “In the Solar System’s youth, the Sun was surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust from which the planets were born. It is believed that a similar gas-and-dust disk surrounded Saturn during its formation,” he says. “The fact that these newly discovered moons were able to continue orbiting Saturn after their parent moons broke apart indicates that these collisions occurred after the planet formation process was mostly complete and the disks were no longer a factor.”

Night Sky Falls on the Subaru Optical IR Telescope Located on the Summit at the Mauna Kea . [+] Observatories on the Big Island of Hawaii

Moment Editorial/Getty Images

How were the new moons discovered?

Using the 8.2 meter Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the flagship telescope of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. "Using some of the largest telescopes in the world, we are now completing the inventory of small moons around the giant planets,” says Sheppard. "They play a crucial role in helping us determine how our Solar System’s planets formed and evolved.”

101429 A Tiny Twin of the Moon - Follows Mars Through Space

Mars is accompanied by a pair of small moons — Phobos and Deimos — as well as four trojan asteroids which follow the Red Planet in its trips around the Sun.

Trojan asteroids follow planets, including Mars, Earth, and Jupiter, placed 60 degrees ahead or behind their worlds. This angle provides stable gravitational points in the orbit for the asteroids as they move around the Sun. Each orbit of two massive objects produces five places, known as Lagrange (or Lagrangian) points, where gravity of the two larger objects balances, keeping smaller bodies in a stable orbit around a central point.

These are the five stable points in an orbit of a pair of massive bodies, including 101429 including Mars and the Sun, holding on to 101429. Image credit: Anynobody / Created in Blender.

Those bodies 60 degrees ahead of planets are known as leading Trojans (#4 on the diagram), while those behind their planetary parent are denoted as trailing Trojans (#5).

The trailing trojans following Mars through space are known as the Eureka family of asteroids, named in honor of 5261 Eureka, the first of these bodies found in the orbit of Mars. Astronomers believe most of these objects fragmented off a large parent body.

However, one of these asteroids — (101429) 1998 VF31 — appears to be different from its stony compatriots.

One of These Things is not Like the Other…

Astronomers from the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) in Northern Ireland examined these Eureka bodies. Spectrographs made using the X-SHOOTER instrument attached to the eight-meter Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile uncovered a secret.

While other bodies in the Eureka group were similar to each other, 101429 is far different. However, it does resemble another body in the Solar System — our own Moon.

“Many of the spectra we have for asteroids are not very different from the Moon but when you look closely there are important differences, for example the shape and depth of broad spectral absorptions at wavelengths of 1 and 2 microns. However, the spectrum of this particular asteroid seems to be almost a dead-ringer for parts of the Moon where there is exposed bedrock such as crater interiors and mountains,” explains Dr. Galin Borisov of Armagh Observatory and Planetarium.

Two points in the orbit of Mars contain trojan asteroids, including 101429. Image credit: Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

This asteroid, perhaps a kilometer across, regularly crosses the orbit of Mars as it revolves around the Sun once every 687 days.

The 101429 trojan asteroid was also found to contain more iron than its brethren, and higher levels of proxenes — a class of long chain molecules found in many igneous and metamorphic rocks here on Earth.

This Origin Story Rocks

This discovery begs the question — “Where did this asteroid originate?” Researchers have several theories, although none are yet certain.

“The asteroid could be genetically related to iron-rich primitive achondrite meteorites, may have originated as impact ejecta from Mars — a scenario proposed recently for the Eureka family asteroids — or could represent a relic fragment of the Moon’s original solid crust, a possibility raised by the asteroid’s close spectral similarity to areas of the lunar surface,” researchers describe in an article detailing the study, published in the journal Icarus.

Analysis of the data suggests that 101429 was likely ejected from Mars, a large asteroid, or — possibly — our own Moon.

“The early solar system was very different from the place we see today. The space between the newly-formed planets was full of debris and collisions were commonplace. Large asteroids — we call these planetesimals — were constantly hitting the Moon and the other planets. A shard from such a collision could have reached the orbit of Mars when the planet was still forming and was trapped in its Trojan clouds,” states Dr. Apostolos Christou, astronomer at AOP.

The vast majority of trojans in our solar system — thousands, in fact — are found in the gravitational field of Jupiter. These bodies are thought to be left over from the formation of the Solar System.

In 2010, an asteroid was discovered following Earth which was initially believed to be a trojan body accompanying our own planet. However, this asteroid — 2010 TK7 — was a member of the Asteroid Belt which broke free, temporarily following Earth in an unstable orbit.

Trojans in the same orbit as Earth are more difficult to find than those around other worlds. Their positions relative to Earth require telescopes looking for them to point close to the Sun, which most telescopes cannot withstand.

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory, with an 8.4 -meter telescope, will soon be searching the skies for signs of Earth-based trojans. The Lucy spacecraft, due for launch in 2021, will be the first robotic explorer to examine trojan bodies up close when it arrives at its destination at the orbit of Jupiter. These new studies could help us better understand the nature of these little-known bodies in our solar system.

James Maynard

James Maynard is the founder and publisher of The Cosmic Companion. He is a New England native turned desert rat in Tucson, where he lives with his lovely wife, Nicole, and Max the Cat.