Science

Jupiter has a dozen new moons, including one 'oddball'

Jupiter has a dozen new moons, including one 'oddball'”

Sheppard's team found the moons while searching for Planet Nine, a distant, undiscovered planet thought to be altering the paths of objects in our solar system.

One of the new moons in the outer group is particularly unique, according to astronomer Scott Sheppard at the Carnegie Institution for Science, who led the team that first spotted the moons a year ago.

Though most of the moons were originally spotted using the Blanco 4-meter telescope, several other telescopes, in Chile, Arizona and Hawaii, were used to confirm the presence of the Jovian satellites. Jupiter happened to be in the same field of view, so they also looked for any as yet unknown moons.

Two more of the moons are in a group that circle much closer to the planet in prograde orbits which travel in the same direction as Jupiter's spin. Nine others orbit with Jupiter's outer retrograde moons in the opposite direction. But the newly discovered moons are tiny, ranging from 1 to 3 kilometers in diameter.

The "oddball" moon, which has been named Valetudo after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene, has an orbit that is dissimilar to any other known moon around Jupiter.

The new moons, pictured as circles above, were discovered a year ago by a team of astronomers.

On Tuesday, the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre published the orbits for 12 newfound Jovian - bringing Jupiter's total to 79 moons, said Scott Sheppard, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in D.C.

Jupiter's moons range in size from shrimpy satellites to whopping space hulks.

"This is an unstable situation", said Sheppard. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust".

It takes around 18 months to orbit Jupiter, and its orbit passes that of the retrograde moons, which makes collisions pretty likely.

Two of the newly discovered moons orbit much closer to Jupiter and have a prograde orbit, meaning that they orbit in the same direction as the planet. Not yet, anyway. "Right now the only definition of a moon is something that orbits the planet", Sheppard said, as long as it isn't human-made. 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. This gave the team a unique opportunity to search for new moons around Jupiter in addition to objects located past Pluto, according to the statement. The "oddball" moon, known as Valetudo, can be seen in green in a prograde orbit that crosses over the retrograde orbits.

In the spring of 2017, Jupiter happened to be in an area of sky the team wanted to search for Planet Nine.

This survivor could be the last remnant of a once-larger prograde moon that collided with an object to create the retrograde moons. The solar system's ocean worlds might be the most promising place to look.

But the discovery might be short-lived because Valetudo faces destruction in head-on collisions.

Jupiter, the fifth planet from the Sun, has a diameter of 142,984km. The planet must have acted like a vacuum, sucking up all the material that was around it.Some of that debris was captured as moons.

With 67 other known moons flying around Jupiter, there's already a good amount of traffic around the gas planet, as shown in the illustration above.

The moons are small, ranging from just one kilometre to three kilometres in width.

"Valetudo's going down the highway the wrong way, so it's very likely it will collide with these other objects".



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