Astronomers discover 10 new moons for Jupiter

Carlton Robbins
July 23, 2018

Researchers from the Carnegie Institute of Science have "serendipitously" stumbled upon 12 new moons of Jupiter, one was which was described as an "oddball".

Dr. Sheppard and colleagues first spotted the moons in the spring of 2017 while they were looking for distant Solar System objects as part of their hunt for a hypothetical Planet Nine.

This latest discovery brings the total number of Jovian moons to 79, making Jupiter the planet with the largest number of moons in the solar system.

"We're looking for new possible planets and dwarf planets in our solar system, just seeing what is out there", said Sheppard. Well, not exactly. Those dozen moons have, of course, always been in Jupiter's orbit, but it was only this week that researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science announced their discovery.

Two of the newly discovered moons orbit much closer to Jupiter and have a prograde orbit, meaning that they orbit in the same direction as the planet. Two of the new moons are in a group that orbit in the same direction as Jupiter's rotation called the prograde group. Sheppard's girlfriend came up with a name for it: Valetudo, the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter, and the goddess of health and hygiene. Sheppard describes this as "an unstable situation", noting that collisions between two moons are possible due to the 12th moon's odd orbit. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust."Some of Jupiter's moons and moon groupings, including the "oddball", could have formed from collisions like this, according to the statement".

Diagram of the new moons split into different groups. Image credit Roberto Molar-Candanosa courtesy of Carnegie Institution for Science
Diagram of the new moons split into different groups. Image credit Roberto Molar-Candanosa courtesy of Carnegie Institution for Science

It also "has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon" and is "likely Jupiter s smallest known moon", he added. Later, several other telescopes were used to confirm the find. In this particular case, astronomers looking for the elusive Planet X beyond Pluto ended up finding an extra set of moons around Jupiter, Science Daily reports. It's small - less than one kilometer in diameter - with a prograde orbit that crosses the outer retrograde moons. That puts them in the category known as retrograde moons. It's essentially driving down the highway in the wrong direction, Sheppard explained. It's in an orbit that takes it directly through the cluster of retrograde moons.

The scientists note that they were able to discover these new moons thanks to the lower detection threshold of the telescope. Sheppard talks of how further research of these moons can even point us in the direction of even understanding the very origins of our solar system. This outlier is like no other moon orbiting Jupiter. Next out are the four large Galilean moons - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto - that are easily visible from Earth, even with binoculars or a small telescope. Of the 12 newly surveyed moons, 11 have orbits that fall neatly in line with previously discovered satellites.

Following this giant gas planet, Saturn's moon count is 61.

There are almost 200 moons in our solar system. This proved to be quite helpful, as the unknown moons around Jupiter are small and dim.

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