Published: Fri, July 20, 2018
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

Astronomers Discover 12 New Moons Orbiting Jupiter

Astronomers Discover 12 New Moons Orbiting Jupiter

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

The last moon is fittingly weird, considering how freaky Jupiter is.

The newly-discovered retrograde moons are estimated to take about two years to orbit Jupiter.

Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, is the ninth-largest object in the solar system, bigger than the planet Mercury and dwarf planets like Pluto.

Sheppard, an astrophysicist and a supervise scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington and the leading light of the lineup of astronomers who gives rise to the discovery.

Most of the new moons were revealed by the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American, located in Chile, which was recently outfitted with a Dark Energy Camera created to locate faint objects. Near those nine is one moon that likes to move to the beat of its own and, like the two closer to Jupiter, has a rotation that mimics its host planet. Nine others orbit with Jupiter's outer retrograde moons in the opposite direction.

Sheppard said these moons were probably objects that formed near Jupiter during the early days of the solar system and were "captured" by the planet's strong gravitational pull. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust". Confirmation came with help from a variety of observatories, including the 6.5-metre Magellan telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, the 4-metre Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory in Arizona, the 2.2-metre University of Hawaii telescope and the 8-metre Subaru and Gemini Telescopes, also in Hawaii. Later, several other telescopes were used to confirm the find.

Recovery image of Valetudo from the Magellan telescope in May 2018 Jupiter is not in the field but off to the upper left. Image credit Carnegie Institution for Science
12 new moons discovered around Jupiter

With 67 other known moons flying around Jupiter, there's already a good amount of traffic around the gas planet, as shown in the illustration above. These two newly discovered moons take a little less than a year to travel around Jupiter. That's because Valetudo, named for the Roman goddess of health and hygiene, is a true oddball. All of these moons are thought to be the remnants of three much larger bodies that were destroyed by collisions with other moons, asteroids or comets. Sheppard's team speculates Valetudo could be a remnant of a collision between one or more moons. That brings its total known satellites to 79, the most in the solar system.

They take about two years to orbit Jupiter, which is the largest planet in the solar system.

Researchers found the new moons thanks to a telescope upgrade. That would explain its theorized orbit, which wouldn't be able to form in a neat circle and instead formed in an a chaotic environment.

They also have a retrograde orbit, or the opposite direction to the spin of Jupiter on its axis. And astronomers have just announced the discovery of a dozen more. Those retrograde moons are then further grouped into three distinct sections. Sheppard said Jupiter and Saturn may actually have a similar number of moons, with some of Saturn's smaller ones not yet detected.

The scientists, led by Scott Sheppard, opened 12 more satellites of the gas giant.

Nine of the new moons are in a group of more distant moons in prograde orbits.

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