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

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

Well, not exactly. Those dozen moons have, of course, always been in Jupiter's orbit, but it was only this week that researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science announced their discovery. These newfound objects are tiny, ranging between one and four kilometers in diameter (0.6 to 2.5 miles), and have been officially confirmed as moons about a year after their discovery, once the astronomers tracking their orbit were sure of what they had found.

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

Sheppard's team found the moons while searching for Planet Nine, a distant, undiscovered planet thought to be altering the paths of objects in our solar system.

The discovery means Jupiter, the oldest and largest planet in the solar system, has more moons than any of the other seven.

Of the 12 newly discovered moons, 11 are "normal", according to a statement from the Carnegie Institution for Science.

The team first observed the new moons in 2017 with the 4-meter Blanco telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. These all travel in retrograde, or the opposite of Jupiter's rotation, while two more, also though to be moon remnants, travel in prograde. Two are part of the inner moons, orbiting in the prograde or with the planet's rotational direction. Given a provisional name Valetudo (the great-granddaughter of Jupiter in mythology), it orbits prograde, but is also so far from Jupiter that its orbit is solidly among the retrograde moons! "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust", Dr. Sheppard said.

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Valetudo is in Jupiter's distant, outer swarm of moons that circles in the opposite direction of the planet's rotation. "Head-on collisions are likely to happen in that situation".

"We just haven't observed them enough", said Williams, who helped confirm the moons' orbits. They named it Valetudo, after a daughter of Jupiter and the Roman goddess of hygiene and personal health.

Following this giant gas planet, Saturn's moon count is 61. This is the largest number of moons of any planet in the solar system. Though it has a prograde orbit, it lives among a group of retrograde moons, meaning it careens across their orbits every once in awhile. The moons orbit in three different groupings and are thought to be the remnants of three bodies that were broken apart in earlier collisions. Which direction the moons swing around the planet depends on how they were first captured by Jupiter's gravitational field. Nine of these moons are from a previously discovered cluster of moons that are in what astronomers call a retrograde orbit.

This, as you can imagine, has the potential to end poorly for our oddball friend and at least one of the other moons that are heading in the opposite direction. The more they find, the more they can narrow the area of sky where Planet Nine might be.

These new moons probably formed in a place in our solar system known as the giant planet region, which is between the asteroid belt, dominated by rocky asteroids, and the Kuiper belt, dominated by icy comets.

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