Published: Mon, July 23, 2018
Science | By Celia Watts

Astronomers discover 12 more moons orbiting Jupiter, including an 'oddball'

Astronomers discover 12 more moons orbiting Jupiter, including an 'oddball'

Nine of the newly discovered moons are part of an outer group that orbit in the opposite, or retrograde, direction of Jupiter's spin, taking about two years to complete one trip around the planet. The lost moons were initially sighted in 2003, but scientists could not define their exact orbits and lost track of them.

Valetudo is more than just the odd moon out; it's also a serious collision hazard. For greater detail, a spacecraft is needed.

The moons were discovered while astronomers were searching for objects at the edge of the solar system, according to Scott Sheppard, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science who co-authored the study. "It probably has collided with them over time".

So, unlike the closer-in prograde group of moons, this prograde moon has an orbit that crosses the outer retrograde moons.

"It's like driving in a auto and looking out the window, with highway signs flying by and a mountain in the background moving slowly", Sheppard explained.

He believes that there may be more astronomical secrets found near the large planet. Imagine how surprised he would be today to know that the Solar System's largest planet is now known to have 79 satellites. While Jupiter, the fifth planet from the Sun, has large moons such as Ganymede - the biggest in the solar system with a diameter of 3,273 miles (5,268 km) - the new ones range in size from about six-tenths of a mile (1 km) to 2.5 miles (4 km).

They discovered the 12 moons, but the observation and confirmation process, using multiple telescopes, took about a year. They make one revolution around the planet in two years. The researchers think they're what's left of three larger bodies that broke apart after running into comets or asteroids. These two newly discovered moons take a little less than a year to travel around Jupiter.

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

Tabetha Boyajian, an astrophysicist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge who is not part of the crew, called the verdict of the new moons "cool" in an email.

In terms of what it should be called, one of the leading suggestions has been Valetudo, the goddess of health and hygiene, and the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter. What's more, those orbits intersect. "He told NBC News MACH in an email "'Valetudo' is like running the highway on the wrong side of the road". Over the course of a billion years, it may even cease to exist.

The remarkable chance find brings the gas giant's tally of moons to a whopping 79 compared with 62 for Saturn, the planet with the second most. The planet must have acted like a vacuum, sucking up all the material that was around it.

Because it's orbiting in the opposite direction of the nine "new" retrograde moons, and across their paths, there is a high risk that it will hit one of them, according to the statement.

There are almost 200 moons in our solar system. Even though these are objects in our own solar system, the observations were challenging.

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