Ten New Moons Discovered Around Jupiter

Cesar Mills
July 18, 2018

During a quest to find Planet Nine, a mysterious planet believed to be on the edge of our solar system, astronomers discovered something else: 12 new moons around Jupiter.

Scientists were looking for objects on the fringes of the solar system previous year when they pointed their telescopes close to Jupiter's backyard, according to Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington. The scientists embarked on a yearlong process that involved several observations to confirm the moons' existence, according to a Carnegie Institution for Science press release. The retrograde set of moons take about two years to complete a lap around Jupiter, and the prograde ones take under a year.

This oddball takes about a year and a half to circle Jupiter, and orbits at an inclined angle that crosses paths with a swarm of moons traveling in a retrograde, or in the opposite direction of Jupiter's spin rotation. Two of them go round in a prograde motion, in the same direction to Jupiter's spin.

Sheppard described the 12th new moon as an "oddball" with "an orbit like no other known Jovian moon". Sheppard believes it could be Jupiter's smallest, and it has an orbit unlike any other moon around the planet.

More than 400 years after Galileo Galilei discovered the first of Jupiter's moons, astronomers have found a dozen more - including one they've dubbed "oddball" - orbiting the planet.

In June 2017, the same team discovered two mile-wide moons and five lost moons. The satellite, named for Jupiter's great-granddaughter, could be a bit of unfinished business, the last remnant of the ancient moons that provided the grist for the retrograde cluster, the team theorizes. Given the moons' stable orbits and kilometer-scale sizes, the collisions were likely chance events later in the solar system's history. Not yet, anyway. "Right now the only definition of a moon is something that orbits the planet", Sheppard said, as long as it isn't human-made. The largest among them are the Galilean satellites-Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto-large moons that orbit close to the planet. Many of Jupiter's outer moons were likely formed by collisions between larger retrograde moons and oddball prograde satellites.

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These new moons probably formed in a place in our solar system known as the giant planet region, which is between the asteroid belt, dominated by rocky asteroids, and the Kuiper belt, dominated by icy comets. Sheppard's team speculates Valetudo could be a remnant of a collision between one or more moons. With orbital periods of about one year, they also are thought to be the result of earlier collisions. The telescope recently was upgraded with the Dark Energy Camera, making it a powerful tool for surveying the night sky for faint objects.

It will appear as the fourth brightest object in the sky behind the moon, Mars and Venus. "[That camera] allows us to search the whole area around Jupiter in a very few images", he says.

This was at a time when the Sun was still surrounded by a rotating disc of gas and dust from which the planets were born.

Researchers found the new moons thanks to a telescope upgrade.

Nine of the new moons are in the retrograde group, a distant bunch of moons that rotate in the opposite direction of Juipter.

Finding a moon that tiny, he noted, means it must have formed after all the gas and dust had cleared.

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