Astronomers find 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter, including an "oddball"

Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter

Astronomers find 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter, including an "oddball"

The orbit of a dozen previously unknown moons around Jupiter are shown here, including the "oddball" discovery, Valetudo.

The new find boosts Jupiter's moon count to 79, easily making it the most populous place for moons in our solar system.

Gareth Williams at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center used the team's observations to calculate orbits for the newly-found moons. "It takes several observations to confirm an object actually orbits around Jupiter", Williams said. The outer moons are clustered in at least three groups based on their distances from Jupiter and the angles of their orbits, and astronomers think these moons are fragments of three larger objects that were captured by Jupiter's gravity and later broken up by collisions - though whether that was with passing comets, rogue asteroids, or other moons is unclear. There are also small interior moons that orbit in the same direction as Jupiter, which are referred to as prograde moons.

Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, was hardly short of moons before the latest findings.

Eleven are "normal" moons, with nine of them part of a distant outer swarm that orbit in the retrograde, meaning they move in the opposite direction to Jupiter's spin. Its path weaving within the retrograde moons is unstable, they add; a collision, at some point, is likely.

"It's allowed us to cover the whole area around Jupiter in a few shots, unlike before, and we're able to go fainter than people have been able to go before", says Sheppard. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust", Dr. Sheppard said.

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The team suspect the "oddball" is the last-remaining remnant of a once-larger prograde moon that formed some of the retrogrades during past head-on collisions.

A greater number of irregular moons because it tells us about a time during Jupiter's formation when the planet was still growing. The team first spotted most of the new Jovian moons using the Blanco 4-metre telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, and followed up with further observations at other telescopes.

They all turned out to be moons of Jupiter.

A new bumper haul of moons has been discovered by accident around Jupiter, with one of them described as an "oddball".

Due to their sizes-one to three kilometers-these moons are more influenced by surrounding gas and dust.

The current team of astronomers did not set out to find new moons of Jupiter, but was scanning the skies for planets beyond Pluto when the moons fell into the path of their telescope.

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The team proposed naming that tiny moon Valetudo, after the goddess of health and hygiene.

The final discovery is classified as an "oddball" as it has an orbit unlike any other Jovian moon.

Given their small size, if the moons had existed in the early days of the solar system, the gas and dust that surrounded the Sun at that time would have exerted a strong drag on them, causing them to lose speed and spiral in to crash into Jupiter.

Sheppard said the oddball moon is "likely Jupiter's smallest known moon, being less than 1 kilometre in diameter".

Nine of the moons are very distant from Jupiter, and orbit it retrograde - backwards relative to Jupiter's spin.

It's possible the various orbital moon groupings we see today were formed in the distant past through this exact mechanism. We already have a classification for dwarf planets.

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