Published: Fri, July 20, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

Scientists discover 12 new Jupiter moons, describe one as an "oddball"

Scientists discover 12 new Jupiter moons, describe one as an

What just happened? In their hunt for Planet Nine, a proposed planet that may lie beyond Pluto, astronomers at the Carnegie Institution for Science discovered 12 moons orbiting Jupiter.

And then there's the oddball moon.

Because Jupiter is also a bright planet, astronomers have had to deal with the issue of glare and scattered light affecting the space where moons can exist. The oddball also orbits in prograde, but at a greater distance than the other prograde moons.

All of these new moons are very small, only about one to three kilometers across (a kilometer is 0.6 miles). It now brings Jupiter's moon count up to 79, the most of any planet in our solar system.

One of the objects they were looking for is the mysterious "Planet X" or "Planet Nine", which remains undiscovered. The main theory on the origin of these moons is that were of larger moons of ancient plants that were broken apart during some ancient cosmological event, most likely due to collisions with comets or asteroids.

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Valetudo is more distant and more inclined than the prograde group of moons and takes about 1.5 years to orbit Jupiter. What they found were 12 new moons orbiting the planet.

Astronomers have discovered dozen new moons encircling the Jupiter that will inevitably lead to the planet violent destruction, as they are "driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road".

The team's results are not yet available in a peer-reviewed journal, as Sheppard's team is now running supercomputer simulations to try and figure out how often Valetudo might collide with a retrograde moon. The observations were made in 2017, but it took a year to track them long enough to nail down their orbits. This means it crosses paths with the outer retrograde moons and could collide with them.

As a result, head-on collisions are much more likely to occur between Valetudo and the retrograde moons, which are moving in opposite directions.

The Blanco 4-meter telescope Sheppard was using is uniquely suited to spotting potential new moons both because the camera installed on it can photograph a huge area of sky at once and because it's particularly good at blocking stray light from bright objects nearby - say, Jupiter - that might wash out fainter ones. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust".

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The researchers even wonder if the crashes are responsible for the swarms of smaller Jovian moons we see today. The lost moons were initially sighted in 2003, but scientists could not define their exact orbits and lost track of them. What's truly weird is that this set up prone to four moon-to-moon collisions.

It's been nicknamed Valetudo after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene who is the great-granddaughter of the god Jupiter. That would explain its theorized orbit, which wouldn't be able to form in a neat circle and instead formed in an a chaotic environment.

It will appear as the fourth brightest object in the sky behind the moon, Mars and Venus. The trouble is: Jupiter lies four times further from Earth than the sun.

Turns out Jupiter has 12 extra moons we didn't know about. Sheppard said Jupiter and Saturn may actually have a similar number of moons, with some of Saturn's smaller ones not yet detected.

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