12 new moons spotted around Jupiter - but one may destroy them all

This brings Jupiter's total number of known moons to a whopping 79-the most of any planet in our Solar System. For the other 11 moons, Sheppard said they might let the public help out. It's out where the outer, retrograde moons are, but it's orbiting Jupiter in the prograde direction, driving into the oncoming traffic.

Credit: Carnegie Institution for Science.

This moon, now called Valetudo, moves in a prograde motion, though it is slightly inclined compared to the orbits of the other moons.

The scientists say the moons weren't seen before because they are tiny - the biggest ones only about two miles across.

They discovered the 12 moons, but the observation and confirmation process, using multiple telescopes, took about a year. Bringing the now known total to 79.

But that didn't necessarily suggest they were moons - they could have been asteroids orbiting the sun. Some of the outer moons, on the other hand, are retrograde moons, which orbit in the opposite direction. Nine of the new satellites orbit in a distant swarm of outer moons that are thought to be leftover from a series of collisions that might have involved what were once three larger bodies.

Two of the new discoveries are part of a closer, inner group of moons that orbit in the prograde, or same direction as the planet's rotation.

They are also believed to be fragments of a larger moon that was broken apart and take just under a year to circle Jupiter.

The team also discovered one particularly odd moon in the new batch.

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.

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As a result, head on collisions are much more likely to occur between this "oddball" prograde moon and its retrograde cousins moving in opposite directions.

"This is an unstable situation", said Sheppard. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust."Some of Jupiter's moons and moon groupings, including the "oddball", could have formed from collisions like this, according to the statement". 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.

The team suspect the "oddball" is the last-remaining remnant of a once-larger prograde moon that formed some of the retrogrades during past head-on collisions. Researchers have proposed naming the "oddball" Valetudo, after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene. Until the announcement this morning by the International Astronomical Union of the discovery of an additional 10 moons about the gas-giant planet.

Elucidating the complex influences that shaped a moon's orbital history can teach scientists about our Solar System's early years. Sheppard added that his team performed similar moon searches at Uranus and Neptune - but came up empty.

While the planet was visible to the naked eye during its peak opposition on May 8, for the next few weeks star-gazers should be able to spot it through binoculars or a telescope.

And that raises a question: Does an object less than a mile across deserve to be called a moon?

The Carnegie Institution team, led by Scott Sheppard, didn't set out to find even a single new Jovian moon.

Also, if the moons had formed earlier, there likely would have been more crashes, the team explained.

If these raw materials had still been present when Jupiter's first moons collided to form its current clusters, the drag exerted on the smaller ones would have made them spiral inwards.

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