Jupiter's moon count reaches 79, including tiny 'oddball'

Astronomers from the Carnegie Institution for Science have spotted 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter, bringing the total to 79. So a telescope isn't able to capture much more than the moons' orbits.

Most of the new moons were revealed by the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American, located in Chile, which was recently outfitted with a Dark Energy Camera created to locate faint objects. So hey, why not look for some more moons? What makes it odd, however, is its maverick orbit: it is the only prograde Jovian satellite discovered to date to orbit at the same distances as the retrograde moons.

"The question is, are there more Valetudos, weird objects that have these different orbits", Sheppard said. "It's also likely Jupiter's smallest known moon, being less than one kilometre (0.62 miles) in diameter".

Two more of the moons are in a group that circle much closer to the planet in prograde orbits which travel in the same direction as Jupiter's spin.

Nine of the new moons are found among outer concentrations of moons orbiting Jupiter in retrograde - in the opposite direction of the gas giant's axis rotation. Most likely to be pieces of a once larger moon that was broken up in orbit, they take almost a year to complete a lap around Jupiter. 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.

Researchers in the United States stumbled upon the new moons while hunting for a mysterious ninth planet that is postulated to lurk far beyond the orbit of Neptune, the most distant planet in the solar system.

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

They discovered the 12 moons, but the observation and confirmation process, using multiple telescopes, took about a year.

Valetudo might be the last fragment of a larger moon that was destroyed by the retrograde moons, and its path means it too might eventually get demolished. "They're going around the planet in the opposite direction that Jupiter rotates", Sheppard says. "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".

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It's possible the various orbital moon groupings we see today were formed in the distant past through this exact mechanism.

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. Sheppard's team speculates Valetudo could be a remnant of a collision between one or more moons.

Sheppard and his colleagues have proposed naming the oddball moon Valetudo, after a minor goddess and great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter.

In March 2017, Jupiter was in the flawless location to be observed using the Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, which has the Dark Energy Camera and can survey the sky for faint objects.

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. Maybe we need something similar for tiny moons.

A greater number of irregular moons because it tells us about a time during Jupiter's formation when the planet was still growing.

It will appear as the fourth brightest object in the sky behind the moon, Mars and Venus.

All the newly identified moons are relatively small, ranging in size from about six-tenths of a 1km to 4km.

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