Astronomers discover 12 more moons of Jupiter, including an oddity

18 July, 2018, 01:38 | Author: Dwayne Harmon
  • Researchers discover a dozen new moons of Jupiter

Technology is making it easier to observe Jupiter and the area around it in greater detail, proving that discoveries are just waiting to be made in our own corner of the universe.

The announcement on Tuesday by researchers in the United States brought the total number of the moons known to be circling the giant gas planet to 79.

This isn't likely to be the last new moons that we hear about coming from the gas giant, and astronomers believe there are still plenty smaller satellites that remain undetected. His team at Carnegie, along with collaborators at the University of Hawaii and Northern Arizona University, was hunting for objects far beyond Pluto.

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.

But cosmic serendipity placed the moons in front of their telescope.

The moons are remnants of what was out there, born in the disc of gas and dust around Jupiter after the planet formed and then captured and pulled into Jupiter's orbit.

Using the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile, with its highly-sensitive Dark Energy Camera, however, gave the team a distinct advantage.

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

Because Jupiter is also a bright planet, astronomers have had to deal with the issue of glare and scattered light affecting the space where moons can exist.

Galileo detected Jupiter's four largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto in 1610. There are also small interior moons that orbit in the same direction as Jupiter, which are referred to as prograde moons. They are about one to two kilometers (miles) across, said astronomer Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.

The team is calling one of the new moons an "oddball" because of its unusual orbit. Sheppard's girlfriend came up with a name for it: Valetudo, the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter. Maybe we need something similar for tiny moons. "These objects started orbiting Jupiter, instead of falling into it".

Size isn't a requirement to be a moon - there's no such thing as a dwarf moon. "It's basically like you're driving down the highway in the wrong direction", Sheppard says.

A team led by Carnegie's Scott S. Sheppard first spotted the moons in the spring of 2017 while they were looking for very distant Solar System objects as part of the hunt for a possible massive planet far beyond Pluto. 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. But Valetudo, in addition to being the smallest discovered, orbits in prograde, or the same direction as the planet's spin.

The last moon is fittingly weird, considering how freaky Jupiter is. Whether that be an exoplanet orbiting a distant star or perhaps a still-unseen planet lurking at the edge of the Solar System, it's a challenging endeavor. Two of the newly discovered moons were found among these prograde moons, and take a little less than a year to go around in their orbit once. Lines point to Valetudo, the newly discovered "oddball" moon. Those moons were probably once part of much larger moons that splintered into smaller objects, Sheppard said.

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