Moons of the outer solar system

My middle school students will be working on reports on the moons of the outer solar system this week. When I was in middle school, the gas giants had what we thought were a lot of moons, but that number has greatly increased as telescopes have improved and probes have been sent to the outer solar system.

Planet Number of moons (1975) Number of moons (2007)
Jupiter 12 63
Saturn 11 48-60
Uranus 5 27
Neptune 2 13

As more moons are discovered, their diameters are becoming smaller. The following table shows the average diameter of moons discovered in orbit around Jupiter for various time periods:

Time period Average diameter of moons discovered (km)
1600s 4208
1800s 262
1900-1970 55
1970s 37
2000s 3

Some questions:

  • How many moons will we say Jupiter has when we can observe rocks only 100 meters in diamter?
  • Will there be another astronomical crisis when Jupiter has 1000 moons? Will astronomers have to debate the question, “What is a moon?” just like they had to go through the “What is a planet?” issue?

Grace and Peace

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