I recently read Carl Sagan's The Cosmic Connection. In it, he begins the seventh chapter with a series of claims to depict the universe as "vast and awesome."

I'm particularly interested in the second claim that he makes, which he does not mention again.

I know of a world with a million moons.

Is anyone aware of which world he might be talking about?

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    $\begingroup$ Saturn comes to mind. All that ring material… $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 6, 2022 at 2:45
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    $\begingroup$ @DreamlessOctober It seems likely he was waxing poetic with the "million moons" line, regardless of what he was referring to (or if, in fact, he was referring to any specific world at all, or just conjuring one up in his imagination). While later he's being less poetic and more pedagogic. I'm still unsure what he might be doing or referring to either way, but it's something to keep in mind I think. $\endgroup$ Jul 6, 2022 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose upon further thought, Saturn's rings and a healthy dose of poeticism may be the best answers to this question. Seeing as how Wikipedia's list of exomoons has < 25 candidates today and he only wrote about Saturn having 10 moons, it's unlikey that there's anything else he could have known about. I'm still curious to see if anyone knows of any reference indicating what Sagan was writing about here (if anything), but realize that such a source might not exist. $\endgroup$ Jul 6, 2022 at 4:09
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    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because this is asking for an author's intent, not an actual astronomical phenomenon $\endgroup$ Jul 6, 2022 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft there are plenty of questions here asking for clarifications. Sagan is world renowned astrophysicist and science communicator and so the premise that they are communicating a well-recognized fact is probably beyond reproach. The answer is almost certainly Saturn's rings as discussed above and it's likely with a little review of Sagan's work that can be established. But closing the question blocks any user from having the opportunity to post a well-researched answer, so now there's a completely unnecessary race find Sagan's context before the question-closers shut this down. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 6, 2022 at 21:14

2 Answers 2


This is Saturn.


[...] In 1973 we phoned him at his home in Ithaca, NY, for details. Come on where?


[Sagan speaks, verbatim] "A world with a million moons. . . is Saturn. The Rings of Saturn are composed of snowballs which are certainly less than a meter across, perhaps ten centimeters across. There are millions of such snowballs making up the rings of Saturn."



Here is a wild guess. "Billions and billons" of stars orbit the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The graitational center of mass of the Milky Way Galaxy is occupied by a supermassive black hole with many other objects orbiting it closely. That black hole might count as a "world" of sorts.

All of the billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy orbit around their common center of mass. But since there is a super massive black hole in that center, perhaps formed from many stellar mass black holes which spiraled down into the center and merged together, someone could claim that all of those stars orbit around the super massive black hole.

And thus all the planets which orbit the stars that orbit the center of the galaxy, and all of the moons which orbit those planets which orbit those stars, could be considered to orbit around the black hole at the center of the galaxy.

And of course astronomers have now detected rogue planets in interstellar space, planets which don't orbit any star but only orbit the center of mass of the galaxy. And of course, for every object of planetary mass, many objects of lower mass must have been formed. So there should be many objects with masses in the range of moon masses orbiting around the center of the galaxy.

So if somone wrote poetically of the supermassive black hole as a "world" and of a million "moons" orbiting it, they would actually be using extreme understatement in the numbers of "moons". There should be hundreds of billions, even trillions, of astronomical objects directly orbiting the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and the super massive black hole in that center.

And the same should be true of countless billions of other large galaxies in the universe.

So I am not certain whether Sagan ment the many moon mass objects which should be directly orbiting the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and the supermassive blackhole there, or if Sagan ment Saturn with probably a lot more than a million ring particles. A lot more than even the "billions and billons" Sagan often wrote and spoke of. This source estimates there are 3 times 10 to the 16th power ring particles:


Or maybe Sagan thought of something else which could be poetically described as a world with a million moons in that passage.

  • $\begingroup$ I mean, he's obviously talking about Saturn. $\endgroup$
    – Jim421616
    Jul 7, 2022 at 7:59

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