Astronomers Discover 12 New Moons Around Jupiter

Astronomers Discover 12 New Moons Around Jupiter

This proved to be quite helpful, as the unknown moons around Jupiter are small and dim.

The astronomers do not know the composition of the dozen newly identified moons.

Another two moons rest in an inner section of moons that orbit in prograde.

But one of the newly discovered moons - and the strangest - offers a fresh clue. A team of astronomers reported the recent discovery of a dozen new moons circling the giant gas planet. 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. Already, he and his team have discovered evidence of a potential planet beyond Pluto called Planet Nine.

"We're looking for new possible planets and dwarf planets in our solar system, just seeing what is out there", Sheppard said.

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Sheppard said these moons were probably objects that formed near Jupiter during the early days of the solar system and were "captured" by the planet's strong gravitational pull.

They are also believed to be fragments of a larger moon that was broken apart and take just under a year to circle Jupiter. Several telescopes were used to confirm the finds, including the 6.5-meter Magellan telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory in Chile; the 4-meter Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory Arizona (thanks to Audrey Thirouin, Nick Moskovitz and Maxime Devogele); the 8-meter Subaru Telescope and the Univserity of Hawaii 2.2 meter telescope (thanks to Dave Tholen and Dora Fohring at the University of Hawaii); and 8-meter Gemini Telescope in Hawaii (thanks to Director's Discretionary Time to recover Valetudo). If you said 69, you were right.

"Valetudo's going down the highway the wrong way, so it's very likely it will collide with these other objects". The other three are prograde, which orbit in the same direction. It has a prograde orbit like the closer group of moons, but during its trip around Jupiter, it crosses into the paths of those retrograde moons, resulting in an orbit that takes around one-and-a-half years to complete. It has a prograde orbit at a distance where the rest of Jupiter's moons have retrograde orbits.

Eleven of the twelve new moons follow these conventions, but Valetudo is the odd one out.

Beyond these is a group known as the "prograde" moons - more tiny, irregular satellites, all of which travel around Jupiter in the same direction that the planet rotates (counter-clockwise, in the view shown below).

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This new "oddball" takes about one and a half years to orbit Jupiter. Its path weaving within the retrograde moons is unstable, they add; a collision, at some point, is likely. The retrograde moons take roughly two years to orbit the planet. That's a lot of moons.

The chance find brings the gas giant's tally of moons to 79 - 17 more than Saturn, the planet with the second most orbiting moons in the solar system. The planet must have acted like a vacuum, sucking up all the material that was around it.

"What astonishes me about these moons is that they're the remnants of what the planet formed from", he said. It's also possibly the smallest moon known around the planet.

Sheppard is leading a team that scrutinizes the darkest reaches of the solar system.

The team of astronomers originally wasn't even looking for the 12 new moons.

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Elucidating the complex influences that shaped a moon's orbital history can teach scientists about our solar system's early years.