A group of Chilean astronomers has managed to determine the origin of 21 satellites of the planet Saturn.

Until now, these objects were thought to have the same origin as the asteroids found beyond Neptune, but two Chilean scientists have discovered that the reality is very different.

“These satellites have an essential characteristic: they are irregular”, explains César Fuentes, academic of the astronomy department of the University of Chile and doctor in astrophysics of Harvard University.

They are objects that have been captured by a planet and follow distant and eccentric orbits. To determine their origin, together with José Peña, doctor of science with honors in astronomy from the University of Chile, they decided to look at them.

“The characteristics of the orbits of the satellites studied, the so-called irregular ones, indicate that they are bodies that have been captured by planets from other parts of the solar system and not from regions close to Neptune as previously thought. now”, adds José Peña.

“To carry out this study, we use what we call in astronomy color, which is the comparison of brightness in different ranges of light,” says Peña. The investigation thus concluded that the origin of the 21 objects analyzed is very different from that of the asteroids beyond Neptune. Therefore, the scenario for the evolution of the solar system would be different from what astrophysics thought it was.


To achieve these results, a technique has been used, with which it is possible to observe and distinguish objects that shine very little when they are close to much brighter bodies, and this same technique is useful for many fields of astronomy, being able, for example, to facilitate the discovery of exoplanets close to other stars. Although for now they plan to study with this methodology the images they have of the satellites that surround Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

The two astronomers used observations made at the Víctor M. Blanco Telescope at the Inter-American Cerro Tololo Observatory using DECam (Dark Energy Camera, or Dark Energy Camera in Spanish), a process that took four days to capture data, but which have been analyzed for a period longer than 12 months.

“The analysis of the images was particularly difficult because it required very careful processing of the images, where the detection of very weak sources (the satellites) was carried out while being so close to a much brighter source (Saturn) “, concludes Pena.

The results of this research were published in The Astronomical Journal in the article “Colors of Irregular Satellites of Saturn with DECam” (“Colors of Irregular Satellites of Saturn with DECam”), which can be read at the following link.

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