The Hunt for 'Planet Nine' Discovers 12 New Moons Around Jupiter

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Jupiter's neighborhood was always crowded, but the discovery of 12 new moons around the giant planet makes it more intriguing.

They discovered the 12 moons, but the observation and confirmation process, using multiple telescopes, took about a year.

As part of that search, Sheppard was using the 4-meter Víctor Blanco Telescope in Chile in March of past year and realized that Jupiter was right near the part of the sky he wanted to search. There are also small interior moons that orbit in the same direction as Jupiter, which are referred to as prograde moons. The moons closer to Jupiter, including the four Galilean satellites, orbit Jupiter in the same direction as the planet's rotation - astronomers call this a prograde orbit.

The remaining moon is less than a kilometer across, further out than the two conventional moons and has a 1.5-year orbit-and the orbit is inclined.

"Our other discovery is a real oddball and has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon", said Scott Sheppard, lead scientist on the project and a staff scientist at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, D. C.

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How many moons does Jupiter have?

In June 2017, the same team discovered two mile-wide moons and five lost moons.

Sheppard said Jupiter and Saturn may actually have a similar number of moons, with some of the latter's smaller ones not yet detected.

"This is an unstable situation", Sheppard said. Because it's moving in the opposite direction of the other moons, a head-on collision is much more likely. They named it Valetudo, after a daughter of Jupiter and the Roman goddess of hygiene and personal health.

Researchers in the U.S. 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. It was probably right in the middle of the planets we know so well, Sheppard said. He and his team have been photographing the skies with some of today's best telescope technology, hoping to catch sight of this mysterious ninth planet.

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"So we could also search for Jupiter moons while looking for things that are well beyond Pluto", Sheppard says. This means it crosses paths with the outer retrograde moons and could collide with them. "But over the age of the solar system, a hundred million or billions of years, it looks like it's very likely that Valetudo will collide with one of these retrograde objects", Sheppard said. Lines point to Valetudo, the newly discovered "oddball" moon.

The so-called "oddball" has such a unique orbit that it is at risk of smashing into the other moons - a cosmic collision that could risk wiping the space rocks out. The irregular satellites didn't form around Jupiter in the same way that the planets formed around the Sun, or the regular satellites around Jupiter, from a flat disc in a prograde orbit.

The giant planet region is where the largest planets in our solar system formed, and it's devoid of objects now because the planets gobbled up all of the material to form.

Valetudo is something of an oddball.

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. Given the moons' stable orbits and kilometer-scale sizes, the collisions were likely chance events later in the solar system's history.

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