Astronomers Discover Twelve New Jovian Moons | Astronomy


This discovery brings the total number of known Jovian moons to 79 - the most of any planet in the Solar System.

Scientists were looking for objects on the fringes of the solar system past year when they pointed their telescopes close to Jupiter's backyard, according to Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington.

Because of how many observations it takes to determine an object in space is actually in orbit around Jupiter, it took about a year to confirm that these were, indeed, new Jovian moons. Two of the newly discovered moons were found among these prograde moons, and take a little less than a year to go around in their orbit once. Seven of them travel in remote orbits more than 20 million kilometers away from Jupiter, and in the opposite direction from the planet's rotation. Sheppard and his team believe that these moons are remnants of three larger moons that broke apart when they collided with other moons, asteroids or comets.

Valetudo is more distant and more inclined than the prograde group of moons and takes about 1.5 years to orbit Jupiter.

It behaves slightly differently to the 11 other moons - so much so, in fact, that experts reckon it might be responsible for having smashed up some of the other floating objects that form the moons orbiting Jupiter. "Magnificent desolation", Sheppard says, is the ideal.

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Finding a moon that tiny, he noted, means it must have formed after all the gas and dust had cleared. Yet it's orbiting in the same direction as the planet, against the swarm's traffic.

But what's particularly wild about these newly discovered moons is that researchers weren't even looking for them. It's also the smallest known moon of Jupiter, scientists said. Which direction the moons swing around the planet depends on how they were first captured by Jupiter's gravitational field.

While searching for a hypothetical planet at the far edges of our solar system known as Planet Nine or Planet X, a team of astronomers discovered 12 new moons around Jupiter.

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.

While the scientists' planet hunt has so far come up dry, the team, using the recently upgraded Blanco 4-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, also had Jupiter in view, leading to the discovery. The 7 new retrograde moons join 45 other satellites that take 2-3 years to orbit.

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Bottom line: For a long time, Jupiter had been known to have dozens of moons.

Jupiter has several different types of moons. The research team thinks Valetudo could be a leftover chunk from a once-larger moon that rammed into another past Jovian satellite, creating the many smaller objects that exist today.

According to Horner, if Valetudo had formed early on, it would have been slowed by the gas and dust present at the formation of Jupiter, and fallen into the planet.

Over the weeks following full opposition, Jupiter will reach its highest point in the sky four minutes earlier each night, appearing as a bright, star-like object.

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