Astronomers Serendipitously Discover 12 Moons Around Jupiter

Gwen Vasquez
July 18, 2018

A look at Jupiter's new moons. But then there was one more, a moon the researchers term the "oddball" of the bunch. Sheppard's team speculates Valetudo could be a remnant of a collision between one or more moons. But every so often, the planets seem to align (no pun intended) and a new discovery just falls right into their laps. Those moons orbit close to Jupiter and travel in the same direction as the planet spins.

Two of the new moons are found closer to Jupiter, orbiting the gas giant in prograde - in the same direction as Jupiter's spin.

The new moons, pictured as circles above, were discovered past year by a team of astronomers.

Nine of the new moons belong to an outer "retrograde" swarm circling against the direction of Jupiter's rotation.

"So, the whole process took a year", Williams, who calculated the orbits of the new moons, said in a statement.

In 2014, this same team found the object with the most-distant known orbit in our Solar System and was the first to realize that an unknown massive planet at the fringes of our Solar System, far beyond Pluto, could explain the similarity of the orbits of several small extremely distant objects.

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. 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.

"This is an unstable situation", said Dr Scott Sheppard from the Carnegie Institution for Science team. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust".

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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.

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. Researchers have proposed naming the "oddball" Valetudo, after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene.

In June 2017, the same team discovered two mile-wide moons and five lost moons.

Telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and Arizona were used for the latest discovery and confirmation. The irregular satellites didn't form around Jupiter in the same way that the planets formed around the Sun, or the regular satellites around Jupiter, from a flat disc in a prograde orbit.

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. We already have a classification for dwarf planets.

Over the weeks following full opposition, Jupiter will reach its highest point in the sky four minutes earlier each night, appearing as a bright, star-like object. Mars has two, Earth has one and Mercury and Venus have none.

Sheppard and his colleagues speculate that Valetudo was probably once much larger, but was ground down, over the course of billions of years, as a result of collisions.

Of the 12 newly discovered moons, 11 are "normal, "according to a statement from the Carnegie Institution for Science".

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