A dozen new moons found orbiting Jupiter, pushing total to 79

A dozen new moons found orbiting Jupiter, pushing total to 79

And one of them has a very unusual trip around the planet, leading it to be dubbed an "oddball".

A dozen new moons have been discovered around Jupiter, bringing its total number of known moons to 79, the most of any planet in our solar system, astronomers announced Tuesday.

The scientists detailed their findings in a study submitted June 22 to The Astronomical Journal. Technology is making it easier to observe Jupiter and the area around it in greater detail, proving that discoveries are just waiting to be made in our own corner of the universe. 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. That was the primary objective of the observations, but it so happens that Jupiter was nearby in the sky where they were looking.

Valetudo can be seen moving relative to a steady background of distant stars in this image.

Over the lifetime of the solar system, a collision seems inevitable.

He added that the team was able to look for new moons "serendipitously". Where their observations had previously been akin to looking through a straw, their capability now is 10 times bigger. Most big objects in the solar system all orbit the Sun and spin in the same sense (the motion is counterclockwise when looking down from above the Earth's north pole). Measuring less than a mile in diameter, it's the smallest of Jupiter's known moons, and Sheppard describes it as an "oddball". Some of them are so far from Jupiter that they take two years to travel around it once!

Not only that, but when the orbital characteristics (shape, tilt, and so on) are compared, these nine retrograde moons seem to fall into three groups; that implies that each group used to be a single moon that got smashed somehow, possibly a collision with another moon-sized body. This cosmic clique is thought to be fragments of a single larger moon that broke apart.

Because the new moons are a few kilometers in size, the team thinks that the impacts that created the satellites likely took place after the era of planet formation ended.

And then there's the oddball moon. But Valetudo, in addition to being the smallest discovered, orbits in prograde, or the same direction as the planet's spin. They named it Valetudo, after a daughter of Jupiter and the Roman goddess of hygiene and personal health.

This oddball is a bit more distant than its prograde brothers, and it takes about a year and a half to orbit Jupiter.

This means, unlike those closer to Jupiter, it crosses the outer retrograde moons. But now put a vehicle moving in the wrong direction in that lane, and things will go downhill fast.

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. Over the course of a billion years, it may even cease to exist.

The newly discovered moons await naming, a task for which the public may be enlisted, so it's a good idea to brush up on the IAU's naming rules for Jovian moons - and which names have already been taken. The planet must have acted like a vacuum, sucking up all the material that was around it. These moons orbit Jupiter in the opposite direction.

These building blocks of planets can provide a window into the early years of the solar system.

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.

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