Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter

Jul 17, 2018, 23:09
Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter

Putting out the trash a day early, playing loud music at all hours, never getting around to fixing that fence.

A look at Jupiter's new moons.

And that raises a question: Does an object less than a mile across deserve to be called a moon? It's more serious than an icy glare from the front stoop. "This is an unstable situation", continued Sheppard. "It's going to slap into something". A prograde satellite may simply have been floating through the solar system before being captured by Jupiter. "They were like vacuums, they sucked up all that material and that created the planets", Sheppard explains.

In March 2017, Jupiter was in the ideal location to be observed using the Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, which has the Dark Energy Camera and can survey the sky for faint objects. It's a few hours' drive from the nearest city, and the night sky is dazzling. If you said four, you might be Galileo.

Valetudo, as spotted through the Magellan telescope in May 2018.

In the spring of 2017, these researchers were searching for Planet Nine in the region past Pluto, and "Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking", Sheppard said. The team's goal was to scan the sky for evidence of a massive ninth planet in the outer solar system.

That brings the number of moons at Jupiter to 79, the most of any planet.

The moons Sheppard spied are farther-flung and tiny, each no more than two miles in diameter.

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 telescope in Chile, with a powerful digital camera that can shade against glare and scattered light, provided Sheppard and his collaborators with a wider and more detailed view than had been possible before.

A team of astronomers is reporting the discovery of a dozen new moons circling the giant gas planet.

As a whole they're not so unusual or remarkable, except, perhaps, for that rogue, Valetudo.

Two of the newly discovered satellites orbit with a group that are in between the outer group and the Galilean moons.

It doesn't behave like the other moons, which tend to fall into a few categories.

It's further away than the prograde moons, taking around one and a half years to orbit around the planet. The moon Valetudo is in the retrograde cluster, but it orbits in a prograde direction and crosses the orbits of several other satellites.

It has most likely collided with other moons, breaking it down into the fragment it is today. In their recent observations, Sheppard's team documented nine of these (along with two prograde, closer-in moons). Maybe 100 or more of the really small ones.

Because it's orbiting in the opposite direction of the nine "new" retrograde moons, and across their paths, there is a high risk that it will hit one of them, according to the statement. That means a head-on collision could occur. Over the course of a billion years, it may even cease to exist.

The finds were announced Tuesday in a bulletin from the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., which serves as the global clearinghouse for the study of moons, asteroids and comets.

The astronomers do not know the composition of the dozen newly identified moons. They are part of a larger group, all with similar distances and angles of inclination, taking little less than a year to orbit Jupiter. "So they're probably half ice and half rock".

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