Researchers discover a dozen new moons of Jupiter

  • Researchers discover a dozen new moons of Jupiter

Researchers discover a dozen new moons of Jupiter

Jupiter's neighborhood was always crowded, but the discovery of 12 new moons around the giant planet makes it more intriguing.

Jupiter already had the most moons in the Solar System, but now scientists have discovered twelve new ones bringing the total up to 79. "We could choose our field of observation to be very close to Jupiter, so we could look for things moving at Jupiter's rate-foreground objects, moving quite fast", while still on the hunt for relatively slower-moving objects in the fringes of the solar system, Sheppard says. Nine objects, which are in three different groups, are likely the remnants of larger moons that broke apart during collisions.

Nine of the new moons are part of a distant swarm of moons that orbit Jupiter in the opposite direction of its spin rotation.

The tiny moon is likely to be named Valetudo after the Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter, the goddess of health and hygiene. Those moons orbit close to Jupiter and travel in the same direction as the planet spins.

"It's basically driving down the highway in the wrong direction", Sheppard said. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust", Dr. Sheppard said. The researchers think these moons are also fragmented remnants of larger moons broken apart after colliding with another body.

The finds were announced Tuesday in a bulletin from the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., which serves as the global clearinghouse for the study of moons, asteroids and comets.

Of the 79 moons now known, most orbit in the same direction as other moons nearest them. That means the revolve around Jupiter opposite from the planet's rotation. They had set their sights on the outer solar system and were looking for more evidence of the elusive Planet Nine, a predicted but as yet unobserved large outer solar system planet. "So, the whole process took a year".

Jupiter's biggest moon, Ganymede, also has an underground salt ocean - although this ocean may be too salty to be habitable.

"The newly discovered retrograde moons take about two years to orbit Jupiter".

Given their small size, if the moons had existed in the early days of the solar system, the gas and dust that surrounded the Sun at that time would have exerted a strong drag on them, causing them to lose speed and spiral in to crash into Jupiter.

Two of the newly discovered satellites orbit with a group that are in between the outer group and the Galilean moons.

Scott Sheppard: "It's been about a decade since the last moons around Jupiter were discovered".

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

"If we do find this planet in the next few years, it would be a pretty incredible discovery for astronomy".

For example, the discovery that the smallest moons in Jupiter's various orbital groups are still abundant suggests the collisions that created them occurred after the era of planet formation.

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.