'Oddball' Moon Among 12 New Discoveries Orbiting Jupiter

'Oddball' Moon Among 12 New Discoveries Orbiting Jupiter

The last moon is fittingly weird, considering how freakish Jupiter is.

The newly discovered "oddball" moon has a prograde orbit, but it orbits farther from Jupiter than the other moons in the larger prograde group and it takes about one and a half Earth years to complete an orbit.

In addition to these two groups, Jupiter has "regular" satellites, or moons with almost circular orbits.

Well, it turns out Jupiter's got several of the fellas, with scientists having just found 12 new moons orbiting the planet in a breakthrough discovery. They are thought to be the remnants of larger parent bodies that were broken apart in collisions with asteroids, comets and other moons.

Nine of the 12 moons are part of an outer group of satellites that orbit Jupiter in retrograde, which means that they orbit in the opposite direction of the planet's rotation. It has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon. They're quite small, measuring two miles in diameter at the most, and they orbit at a larger distance than numerous already-documented moons of Jupiter. When moons move all in the same direction, collisions are less likely, like when a bunch of cars are all driving in the same direction on one side of the highway. "Thus head-on collisions are likely", Sheppard said. The lost moons were initially sighted in 2003, but scientists could not define their exact orbits and lost track of them. "So that's why we're able to find these new moons". They had set their sights on the outer solar system and were looking for more evidence of the elusive Planet Nine, a predicted but as yet unobserved large outer solar system planet.

The Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered the first four of Jupiter's moons in 1610.

Jupiter might yet have more undiscovered moons, Sheppard told Nature. Nine of them orbit farther out, in a retrograde direction - that is, opposite to the direction of the giant planet's rotation. The research team thinks Valetudo could be a leftover chunk from a once-larger moon that rammed into another past Jovian satellite, creating the many smaller objects that exist today.

"This is an unstable situation", said United States astronomer Dr Scott Sheppard from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC, who led the discovery team.

The new moons, reported in The International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center's Electronic Circular, were first found by a team of US astronomers in March 2017 while they searched the skies for signs of Planet 9, a hypothesized ninth planet orbiting the sun far beyond Neptune. For the other 11 moons, Sheppard said they might let the public help out.

The team first spotted most of the new Jovian moons using the Blanco 4-metre telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, and followed up with further observations at other telescopes. "So, the whole process took a year". Given the moons' stable orbits and kilometer-scale sizes, the collisions were likely chance events later in the solar system's history. The telescope recently was upgraded with the Dark Energy Camera, making it a powerful tool for surveying the night sky for faint objects. Valetudo is the name of Jupiter's great-granddaughter and a Roman goddess of health and hygiene, so it fits the bill.

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