‘Oddball’ among 12 new moons discovered around Jupiter

19 July, 2018, 01:24 | Author: Grady King
  • Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter

Jupiter's 79 moons make it the most orbited planet in the Solar System. The newly discovered satellites increase Jupiter's lead in the Solar System as the planet with the most moons - although the space around Saturn is pretty crowded, too.

Not only that, but when the orbital characteristics (shape, tilt, and so on) are compared, these nine retrograde moons seem to fall into three groups; that implies that each group used to be a single moon that got smashed somehow, possibly a collision with another moon-sized body. The moon Valetudo is in the retrograde cluster, but it orbits in a prograde direction and crosses the orbits of several other satellites.

They take about two years to orbit Jupiter, which is the largest planet in the solar system.

"Our other discovery is a real oddball and has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon", Sheppard said.

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"It's allowed us to cover the whole area around Jupiter in a few shots, unlike before, and we're able to go fainter than people have been able to go before", says Sheppard. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust". These inner prograde moons all have similar orbital distances and angles of inclinations around Jupiter and so are thought to also be fragments of a larger moon that was broken apart.

On Tuesday, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced the discovery of 10 new moons orbiting Jupiter. That puts it on a possible collision course with a retrograde moon. While the scientists' planet hunt has so far come up dry, the team, using the recently upgraded Blanco 4-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, also had Jupiter in view, leading to the discovery. Because they are most likely clues to the origins of the planet itself. They take about two Earth years to complete their circuits. That brings the total number of Jovian moons to 79.

One of the 12 newly discovered moons orbiting Jupiter, dubbed Valetudo, someday could be obliterated in a head-on collision with a another moon thanks to its oddball orbit. One moon is located in the outer group but orbits in the opposite direction. But Valetudo, in addition to being the smallest discovered, orbits in prograde, or the same direction as the planet's spin.

Due to their sizes - just 0.6 to 1.9 miles (1 to 3km) in diameter - these moons are more influenced by surrounding gas and dust.

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The moon we see today is the remainder of a much bigger world that blew apart after the crashes. "We think these moons are an intermediate type of object, half-rock and half-ice". Valetudo is the name of Jupiter's great-granddaughter and a Roman goddess of health and hygiene, so it fits the bill.

This survivor could be the last remnant of a once-larger prograde moon that collided with an object to create the retrograde moons.

The current team of astronomers did not set out to find new moons of Jupiter, but was scanning the skies for planets beyond Pluto when the moons fell into the path of their 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.

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