Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter

NewsScienceWatch- A dozen new moons orbiting Jupiter have been discovered by astronomers... by mistake Joe Mellor

The discovery of these moons wasn't planned or intentional.

The discoveries were made more than a year ago, and the orbits of two of the moons were confirmed soon after they were found. That's how many moons astronomers have now identified orbiting the planet Jupiter.

In an interesting new solar discovery, 12 new moons - 11 "normal" outer moons, and one being called an oddball', have been found orbiting Jupiter. They're calling one moon an "oddball" because of its unusual orbit.

The discoveries bring the number of Jupiter's known moons to 79, the most around a single planet in our solar system.

Jupiter's moons are arranged in a specific pattern that the giant planet has worked out over time.

Sheppard led the study at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC.

Why are we just now hearing about it?

Researchers would like to get a close-up look at the moons.

Experts were able to find Jupiter's tiny objects using extremely sensitive telescopes. They take a little less than a year to orbit the gas giant. Those 2017 moons were labeled S/2016 J1 and S/2017 J1. It took much longer for the other 10 to have their orbits verified.

Most of the newly discovered moons orbit opposite to Jupiter's spin, what's known as a retrograde orbit. Their existence shows that they were likely formed after this gas and dust dissipated. The orbits of the new moons are marked with thicker curves. The other three are prograde, which orbit in the same direction. The moons orbit in three different groupings and are thought to be the remnants of three bodies that were broken apart in earlier collisions. The 12th and final moon, however, has instead been labeled an "oddball" by the team.

Researchers discover a dozen new moons of Jupiter

Nine of the 12 moons are part of an outer group of satellites that orbit Jupiter in retrograde, which means that they orbit in the opposite direction of the planet's rotation.

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. Because it's moving in the opposite direction of the other moons, a head-on collision is much more likely.

SHEPPARD: It allows us to search the whole area around Jupiter in a very few images.

It's actually going head-on into these retrograde objects.

"Valetudo is like driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road", Sheppard wrote in an email to Fast Company.

"This is an unstable situation", Scott Sheppard of Carnegie says in a statement. These moons include the famous Galileans: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

The astronomers were not intentionally searching for new Jovian moons when they began observing. Maybe we need something similar for tiny moons. As for how many ultimately will be found, no one knows for sure.

Even more, Valetudo is very freaky, according to the scientists.

Rather than delay their work, the researchers chose to pivot to studying moons of Jupiter that had flown into their gaze. It's just very hard to follow those.

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