Jupiter's moon count reaches 79, including tiny 'oddball'

Jovian moons' orbits

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.

A team of astronomers looking for a proposed planet past the orbit of Pluto got a surprise of their own when they discovered new moons around Jupiter.

Once the Blanco telescope spotted previously unidentified objects near Jupiter, the research team used other telescopes to follow up on these moon candidates and confirm that they were orbiting Jupiter. With a total of 79 moons, Jupiter is now the most lunar-rich planet in the solar system.

They discovered the 12 moons, but the observation and confirmation process, using multiple telescopes, took about a year.

We reached out to Carnegie Institution for Science Professor Scott S. Sheppard to ask about the "oddball" description.

The nine retrograde moons recently found in Jupiter's orbit go around the planet in roughly two years. Valetudo orbits Jupiter in the same direction that the planet spins, but a bunch of other small moons share the same orbital path while traveling in the opposite direction.

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

Using the Blanco four-metre telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile - which had been recently fitted with a new and highly sensitive instrument called the "Dark Energy Camera", which is about the size of a small auto - they detected objects that seemed to be moving against the background stars. "Thus head-on collisions are likely". This instrument has a large camera sensor, allowing Sheppard and his team to search the entire vicinity of Jupiter with just a handful of exposures. Because the planet is so big and bright, researchers surmised that unrecorded moons could be faint, or even obscured, or quite far from the gas giant. The satellite, named for Jupiter's great-granddaughter, could be a bit of unfinished business, the last remnant of the ancient moons that provided the grist for the retrograde cluster, the team theorizes. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals the intricate, detailed beauty of Jupiter's clouds as arranged into bands of different latitudes. This pair of moons take less than a year to orbit Jupiter. The researchers think they're what's left of three larger bodies that broke apart after running into comets or asteroids.

Turns out Jupiter has 12 extra moons we didn't know about. While Earth only has one moon, and some planets, like Mercury and Venus, have none, others have dozens, namely Jupiter and Saturn. Each takes about two years to circle the planet.

Legendary Italian scientist Galileo first detected Jupiter's four largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto in 1610.

Sheppard says Jupiter's prograde moons probably formed from the same spinning disk of stuff that eventually coalesced to form the planet. Now, thanks to a search that was primarily for Planet Nine, astronomers have discovered even more - 79 in total. Because they are most likely clues to the origins of the planet itself.

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