Astronomers Discover 12 New Moons Around Jupiter

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These new moons probably formed in a place in our solar system known as the giant planet region, which is between the asteroid belt, dominated by rocky asteroids, and the Kuiper belt, dominated by icy comets.

"This is an unstable situation", said Dr Scott Sheppard from the Carnegie Institution for Science team. That makes it a powerful tool for surveying the night sky in search of faint objects.

In 1610, Galileo discovered four largest moons around the Solar System's largest planet, Jupiter.

Artist rendering of the orbital paths around Jupiter.

The moons had not been spotted before because they are tiny. The lost moons were initially sighted in 2003, but scientists could not define their exact orbits and lost track of them. These moons orbit in a counter-clockwise direction in the view above. These are part of a group of prograde moons that orbit closer to Jupiter than the retrograde moons do.

The team said the likelihood is that the peculiar moon could be the last remnants of a once-larger group of prograde-orbiting moon that would have formed some of the retrograde moon groupings during previous head-on collisions. During their study they noticed a handful of never-before-seen objects near Jupiter. The oddball is farther and more inclined than the other prograde moons, and its journey takes it through the orbits of the retrograde moons.

"It's also likely Jupiter's smallest known moon, being less than one kilometre in diameter". The largest Galilean moon, Ganymede, is bigger than the planet Mercury. Valetudo is the goddess of health and hygiene, which can not help with this little oddball moon's self-confidence. Maybe 100 or more of the really small ones.

Most moons, including Earth's, have prograde orbits.

Sheppard agrees it's problematic.

It also shows that, while we continue to gaze out into the universe for new discoveries, we are certainly not done discovering new objects, in our very own "backyard". For a long time the number hovered at 69, and now it is 79.

Jupiter has dozens and dozens of moons in its orbit, but another 12 has just been discovered - including an "oddball" with a precarious orbit. Now, all that's left is to name the new moons. Image credit: Carnegie Institution for Science. In March a year ago, he was at the Blanco four-meter telescope in Chile. But they realized in March previous year that Jupiter would pass through the part of the night sky they wanted to search.

Researchers discover a dozen new moons of Jupiter
12 new moons discovered around Jupiter

In the meantime, "we have to speculate about what they [the new moons] are made of", Sheppard said.

PALCA: One thing that helped was an especially large camera attached to the Blanco telescope. What they found were 12 new moons orbiting the planet.

Several other telescopes were used to confirm the finds, including the 6.5-meter Magellan telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory, also in Chile. Those retrograde moons are then further grouped into three distinct sections.

Jupiter, the fifth planet from the Sun, has a diameter of 142,984km.

Nine of the new moons are in a group of more distant moons in prograde orbits.

Jupiter is an absolute record for the number of known satellites among all bodies in the Solar system.

SHEPPARD: They didn't form with Jupiter. He and his colleagues announced the discovery on 17 July.

In terms of what it should be called, one of the leading suggestions has been Valetudo, the goddess of health and hygiene, and the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter.

This discovery could actually give scientists clues into the formation of moons and planets as a whole.

Even more, Valetudo is very freaky, according to the scientists. It would be like driving down a highway going the wrong way. But seriously, does something less than a mile across deserve to be called a moon? Maybe a dwarf moon for anything that's one kilometer in size or smaller.

SHEPPARD: Mini-moon - yeah, that has a pretty good ring to it, too.

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