Astronomers find 10 new moons around Jupiter, including 'oddball'

Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter

USA researchers have discovered 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter, bringing the total number of the planet's known moons to 79, researchers said on Tuesday.

A team of astronomers searching for the proposed ' Planet Nine', a super-Earth planet thought to reside far beyond Pluto, just made a huge find - a dozen newly-discovered moons circling the planet Jupiter, including an "oddball" moon that takes a very risky path around its parent. After verification, they are being reported today by the International Astronomical Union, based in Paris.

Researchers in the USA stumbled upon the new moons while hunting for a mysterious ninth planet that is postulated to lurk far beyond the orbit of Neptune, the most distant planet in the solar system.

After the team of scientists initially saw the moons via a telescope at Chile's Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, at least four other telescopes were used to verify the moons.

In May 2018, more than a year after the initial observations, they confirmed the objects were orbiting Jupiter, and not the sun. There are also small interior moons that orbit in the same direction as Jupiter, which are referred to as prograde moons.

The other nine moons, grouped in clusters of three, have retrograde orbits. They named it Valetudo, after a daughter of Jupiter and the Roman goddess of hygiene and personal health. As such, the orbit crosses those of the more distant retrograde moons, raising the possibility of a possible head-on collision at some point in the future. Many of Jupiter's outer moons were likely formed by collisions between larger retrograde moons and oddball prograde satellites.

This interest in finding new moons around Jupiter wasn't just a spur of the moment decision for Sheppard.

This April 2017 image shows the planet Jupiter. It's out where the outer, retrograde moons are, but it's orbiting Jupiter in the prograde direction, driving into the oncoming traffic. If small moons like these were around when the solar system was still thick with gas and dust, drag forces would have slowed them down and caused them to fall into Jupiter, never to be seen again.

When you're scanning space for a distant planet, that's potentially lurking at the far edges of our solar system, it certainly pays off to keep an eye on what's going on a little closer to home!

For example, the discovery that the smallest moons in Jupiter's various orbital groups are still abundant suggests the collisions that created them occurred after the era of planet formation.

As a result, head-on collisions are much more likely to occur between the "oddball" prograde and the retrograde moons, which are moving in opposite directions. "It was a long process", said Scott Sheppard, who led the effort at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC. These all travel in retrograde, or the opposite of Jupiter's rotation, while two more, also though to be moon remnants, travel in prograde. These moons orbit in a counter-clockwise direction in the view above. In the meantime, they're waiting for the IAU to formally accept "Valetudo" as the name for the oddball moon.

The astronomers do not know the composition of the dozen newly identified moons. Because they formed between the two belts, the moons are probably composed of rock and ice. "We think these moons are the last remnants of the material that formed the giant planets".

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