Astronomers Find a Staggering 12 New Moons Orbiting Jupiter

Astronomers Just Announced The Discovery of 12 New Moons Around Jupiter

What they found were 12 new moons orbiting the planet. That brings its total known satellites to 79, the most in the solar system.

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'.

Sheppard's team found the moons while searching for Planet Nine, a distant, undiscovered planet thought to be altering the paths of objects in our solar system.

If Planet Nine exists, it could be the runt of the giant planets, Sheppard said.

It took a year for their orbits to be confirmed with a series of other telescopes in the United States and Chile.

"We just haven't observed them enough", said Williams, who helped confirm the moons' orbits.

Two more of the moons are in a group that circle much closer to the planet in prograde orbits which travel in the same direction as Jupiter's spin. The researchers think these moons are also fragmented remnants of larger moons broken apart after colliding with another body.

One of the 12 new moons is described by scientists as an "oddball" because of its unusual and risky orbit. It is also likely Jupiter's smallest known moon, being less than one kilometre [0.6 miles] in diameter'.

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Jupiter's newly-discovered moons are all less than two miles wide, which may explain why they've only just been discovered now. These are part of a group of prograde moons that orbit closer to Jupiter than the retrograde moons do.

This is an unstable situation.

Astronomers suspect that the retrograde moons may be the remains of larger moons that were destroyed in head-on collisions with prograde objects. Those moons are also believed to be remnants of a larger moon that was smashed to pieces. The name Valetudo has been proposed for it, after the Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter, the goddess of health and hygiene. Given the moons' stable orbits and kilometer-scale sizes, the collisions were likely chance events later in the solar system's history.

Europa, one of Jupiter's larger moons, casts a shadow on the planet's surface.

Not only that, but when the orbital characteristics (shape, tilt, and so on) are compared, these nine retrograde moons seem to fall into three groups; that implies that each group used to be a single moon that got smashed somehow, possibly a collision with another moon-sized body. This happens every time we push observations to the limits, looking for faint, small beasties, and these new moons don't disappoint. Since they are still around, now, that means they formed after that gas and dust had been swept away by the solar wind.

The team had planned to use the observatory's Blanco four-meter telescope to scout for objects way out, beyond Pluto, and they also made a decision to train their gaze on Jupiter's neighborhood in the night sky.

And then there's the oddball moon.

This research was partially funded by a NASA Planetary Astronomy grant and includes data gathered with the 6.5-meter Magellan Telescopes. It took one of the most powerful digital cameras in the world - the Dark Energy Camera - to spot them. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

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