Published: Mon, July 23, 2018
Research | By Dana Schwartz

Twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter - one may collide with the others

Twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter - one may collide with the others

Just when we thought we had a pretty solid understanding of the celestial objects within our very own solar system, astronomers made a stunning discovery of a dozen new moons orbiting the massive planet of Jupiter. On the other hand, among these, there is the smallest moon of Jupiter found to date, Valetudo, named after the daughter of Jupiter and the goddess of hygiene in the Roman mythology.

In March 2017, Jupiter was in the ideal 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.

"It's like driving in a vehicle and looking out the window, with highway signs flying by and a mountain in the background moving slowly", Sheppard explained. If 12 moons were orbiting a planet, undiscovered until now, imagine the hidden possibilities of what else is lurking out in the great expanse of space.

If we were to host a system-wide beauty contest among the planets and accepted natural satellites as a valid skill, Jupiter would have a pretty unfair advantage.

Because Jupiter is also a bright planet, astronomers have had to deal with the issue of glare and scattered light affecting the space where moons can exist. Reportedly, the researchers said that these moons may have been formed during the early days of the solar system and were probably captured by Jupiter's strong gravitational pull.

While the research team has suspected the existence of these 12 moons for about a year, it takes several observations in order to confirm that an object is, in fact, orbiting Jupiter.

Nine of the new moons have retrograde orbits meaning they orbit in the opposite direction of Jupiter's spin.

A moon is defined as any object, regardless of size, that orbits a planet, not the Sun. So, unlike the other closer-in prograde group of moons, this new oddball prograde moon has an orbit that crosses the outer retrograde moons.

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This oddball is a bit more distant than its prograde brothers, and it takes about a year and a half to orbit Jupiter. The moon's 1.5-year orbit is also more oblong, which means the moon cross paths with the outer retrograde moons.

Researchers found the new moons thanks to a telescope upgrade. What's more, those orbits intersect. It moves in the opposite direction relative to the outer retrograde satellites of the group, crossing their orbits.

"It's like driving a auto on the wrong side of the highway", Sheppard said in a statement. The researchers think these moons are also fragmented remnants of larger moons broken apart after colliding with another body.

The study suspects that Valetudo is the final remnant of a once much larger moon that has been ground to dust by collisions in the past.

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

"What is the original material that built the planets?" The confirmation of 10 was announced Tuesday.

It happened during the search ninth planet of the Solar system. Previously believed to hold just 61 objects, this group circles the planet in the opposite direction of Jupiter's rotation and is even more distant than the prograde moons. This assumed planet is now sometimes popularly called Planet X or Planet Nine.

They did not find Planet Nine. The thought is Valetudo is all that's left of a much larger moon that smacked into one of these retrograde moons, busting the larger moon to pieces.

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