New moons discovered around Jupiter

Ismael LynchJul 21, 2018

A team of astronomers led by Dr. Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science has discovered twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter: eleven "normal" outer moons and one that they're calling an 'oddball'. Measuring less than a mile in diameter, it's the smallest of Jupiter's known moons, and Sheppard describes it as an "oddball".

Of the dozen new moons discovered orbiting Jupiter (bringing the planet's total to a whopping 79), one really stands out.

Once the Blanco telescope spotted previously unidentified objects near Jupiter, the research team used other telescopes to follow up on these moon candidates and confirm that they were orbiting Jupiter.

It means Jupiter, the oldest and largest planet in the solar system, has more moons than any of the other seven.

The discoveries were made more than a year ago, and the orbits of two of the moons were confirmed soon after they were found.

Researchers in the United States stumbled upon the new moons while hunting for a mysterious ninth planet that is postulated to lurk far beyond the orbit of Neptune, the most distant planet in the solar system.

The new moons, pictured as circles above, were discovered previous year by a team of astronomers.

Researchers discover a dozen new moons of Jupiter

Of the 12 newly discovered moons, nine orbit the outer ring and move in retrograde, or the opposite direction from Jupiter's rotation. Remaining two are relatively close and orbit in the same direction as Jupiter. It is more distant (for good reason!), more inclined, takes longer to orbit Jupiter than its siblings, and crosses the outer retrograde moons. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust", Dr. Sheppard said.

They said the space rocks were created when three larger bodies that once orbited the planet were obliterated into smaller chunks by collisions with asteroids.

The team had planned to use the observatory's Blanco four-meter telescope to scout for objects way out, beyond Pluto, and they also chose to train their gaze on Jupiter's neighborhood in the night sky. Sheppard said Jupiter and Saturn may actually have a similar number of moons, with some of Saturn's smaller ones not yet detected. It has been nicknamed Valetudo, after the Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter. Because the planet is so big and bright, researchers surmised that unrecorded moons could be faint, or even obscured, or quite far from the gas giant.

Nine of the moons are very distant from Jupiter, and orbit it retrograde - backwards relative to Jupiter's spin. If the collisions had happened earlier, the moons would likely have interacted with dust and gas leftover from forming Jupiter and been dragged into the planet.

Unlike the other Jovian moons that broke apart soon after the planet was formed, Valetudo is believed to be the remnant of a foreign celestial body.

This twelfth moon has a wide, 1.5-Earth-year orbit around Jupiter and travels among the retrograde moons. These moons orbit in a counter-clockwise direction in the view above. Until the announcement this morning by the International Astronomical Union of the discovery of an additional 10 moons about the gas-giant planet. They are also part of a larger group of small moons thought to be the left-over remnants of a once larger moon. The more they find, the more they can narrow the area of sky where Planet Nine might be.

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