Published: Tue, July 17, 2018
Sci-tech | By Brandy Patterson

Astronomers accidentally discovered 12 more moons of Jupiter, including an 'oddball'


Astronomers from the Carnegie Institution for Science have spotted 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter, bringing the total to 79. 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.

The latest count of 79 known moons of Jupiter includes eight that have not been seen for several years.

Jupiter's moon Valetudo (pointed out with orange bars) moves relative to background stars in these images taken with the Magellan Telescopes at the Las Campanas Observatory. There are also small interior moons that orbit in the same direction as Jupiter, which are referred to as prograde moons. Some slipped in and out of view, complicating the task. These satellites are part of a large group of moons that orbit in retrograde far from Jupiter.

The 2 new regular prograde moons join 15 other previously discovered prograde satellites that typically orbit Jupiter in about an Earth year or less. The largest among them are the Galilean satellites-Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto-large moons that orbit close to the planet. The moon's 1.5-year orbit is also more oblong, which means the moon cross paths with the outer retrograde moons. Nine of them, found in the most distant orbits of Jupiter, are in three distinct groups, taking around two Earth years to orbit Jupiter.

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This illustration shows the newly discovered moons of Jupiter and their orbits. Researchers have proposed naming the "oddball" Valetudo, after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene.

The team also discovered one particularly odd moon in the new batch. A prograde satellite may simply have been floating through the solar system before being captured by Jupiter.

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.

For example, the discovery that the smallest moons in Jupiter's various orbital groups are still abundant suggests the collisions that created them occurred after the era of planet formation, when the Sun was still surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust from which the planets were born.

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"We're looking for new possible planets and dwarf planets in our solar system, just seeing what is out there", Sheppard said. Sheppard thinks it may be all that's left of a larger moon that crashed into one or more of the retrograde moons sometime in the past.

"Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant solar system objects", Sheppard explained. Nine others were detected as part of the outer retrograde moons.

"This moon is going down the highway the wrong way", Sheppard said.

As a result, head on collisions are much more likely to occur between this "oddball" prograde moon and its retrograde cousins moving in opposite directions. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust."Some of Jupiter's moons and moon groupings, including the "oddball", could have formed from collisions like this, according to the statement". This new moon, called Valetudo, is a bit of a renegade. Sheppard expects there could be even more small moons lurking out there.

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