Astronomers discover 12 more moons of Jupiter, including an oddity

"It's also likely Jupiter's smallest-known moon, being less than 1km (0.6 of a mile) in diameter". It now brings Jupiter's moon count up to 79, the most of any planet in our solar system. This putative planet is now sometimes popularly called Planet X or Planet Nine. His team at Carnegie, along with collaborators at the University of Hawaii and Northern Arizona University, was hunting for objects far beyond Pluto.

"We could choose our field of observation to be very close to Jupiter, so we could look for things moving at Jupiter's rate-foreground objects, moving quite fast", while still on the hunt for relatively slower-moving objects in the fringes of the solar system, Sheppard says. And astronomers have just announced the discovery of a dozen more.

"It takes several observations to confirm an object actually orbits around Jupiter", Gareth Williams at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, said in a statement. Nine of them, found in the most distant orbits of Jupiter, are in three distinct groups, taking around two Earth years to orbit Jupiter. The outer moons move in the opposite direction - a retrograde orbit.

Three groupings of Jupiter's moons with a dozen newly discovered ones shown in bold. Two of those are part of Jupiter's group of inner prograde moons, meaning that they orbit in the same direction as the planet rotates. Of the 12 newly surveyed moons, 11 have orbits that fall neatly in line with previously discovered satellites.

The final discovery is classified as an "oddball" as it has an orbit unlike any other Jovian moon.

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This new "oddball" moon is more distant and more inclined than the prograde group of moons and takes about one and a half years to orbit Jupiter. Nine others were detected as part of the outer retrograde moons.

"With the discovery of Valetudo, it seems the collisions that broke apart the retrograde moons were between other prograde Jupiter moons, like Valetudo", Sheppard told ScienceAlert.

"These moons are the last remnants of the building blocks of the giant planets as all other material in the giant planet region likely fell into the planets to help form them", Sheppard said. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust". This tells us something about the timing of the formation of these moon families, which, in turn, tells us something new about the formation of the Solar System.

Astronomers suspect that the retrograde moons may be the remains of larger moons that were destroyed in head-on collisions with prograde objects. Sheppard's girlfriend came up with a name for it: Valetudo, the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter. With orbital periods of about one year, they also are thought to be the result of earlier collisions. Sheppard thinks it may be all that's left of a larger moon that crashed into one or more of the retrograde moons sometime in the past. That means the revolve around Jupiter opposite from the planet's rotation. So they were likely formed after they had dissipated.

These are images of one of the new moons, named Valetudo. The telescope recently was upgraded with the Dark Energy Camera, making it a powerful tool for surveying the night sky for faint objects. Bob Jacobson and Marina Brozovic at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirmed the calculated orbit of the unusual oddball moon in 2017 in order to double check its location prediction during the 2018 recovery observations in order to make sure the new interesting moon was not lost.

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