10 newly found moons of Jupiter include a 'wrong-way driver'

10 newly found moons of Jupiter include a 'wrong-way driver'

Jupiter already had the most moons in the Solar System, but now scientists have discovered twelve new ones bringing the total up to 79.

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. After verification, they are being reported today by the International Astronomical Union, based in Paris.

To check whether this could have happened, the researchers are working on supercomputer simulations of these orbits to calculate how many times an object with Valetudo's orbit could have collided with the retrograde moons in the solar system's lifetime.

After the team of scientists initially saw the moons via a telescope at Chile's Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, at least four other telescopes were used to verify the moons.

Nine of them are part of a distant outer swarm of moons that orbit in the opposite direction of Jupiter's spin rotation; two are much closer to Jupiter and orbit in the same direction as the planet. What makes it odd, however, is its maverick orbit: it is the only prograde Jovian satellite discovered to date to orbit at the same distances as the retrograde moons.

The 12th new moon is a bit of an oddball, Sheppard said, with "an orbit like no other known Jovian moon". The name Valetudo has been proposed for it, after the Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter, the goddess of health and hygiene. The "oddball" moon, known as Valetudo, can be seen in green in a prograde orbit that crosses over the retrograde orbits.

Our solar system's oldest and biggest planet, Jupiter, has many moons.

Sheppard says Jupiter's prograde moons probably formed from the same spinning disc of stuff that eventually coalesced to form the planet.

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

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Which raises the question of how long the tiny moon has left. This tells us something about the timing of the formation of these moon families, which, in turn, tells us something new about the formation of the Solar System.

When you're scanning space for a distant planet, that's potentially lurking at the far edges of our solar system, it certainly pays off to keep an eye on what's going on a little closer to home! But then there was one more, a moon the researchers term the "oddball" of the bunch.

This moon, now called Valetudo, moves in a prograde motion, though it is slightly inclined compared to the orbits of the other moons.

"This is an unstable situation", said Sheppard. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust".

They also have a retrograde orbit, or the opposite direction to the spin of Jupiter on its axis.

Most of the moons are the size of large asteroids, measuring between one and three kilometers (about two-thirds of a mile to two miles) in diameter. They realized they could observe Jupiter at the same time.

Also, if the moons had formed earlier, there likely would have been more crashes, the team explained.

They theorize that Valetudo was a larger object, probably tens of kilometres in diameter.

"What astonishes me about these moons is that they're the remnants of what the planet formed from", he said.

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