Ten new moons of Jupiter discovered, including one 'oddball'

Jul 19, 2018, 01:26
Ten new moons of Jupiter discovered, including one 'oddball'

Of Jupiter's 79 moons, 26 remain unnamed, including nine of the 10 new ones. It's more serious than an icy glare from the front stoop. Such a collision would quickly break apart and grind the object down to dust, Sheppard said. "It's going to slap into something".

The researchers discover new Solar System bodies, and calculate their orbits, by photographing the same part of the sky weeks or months apart.

If Planet Nine exists, it could be the runt of the giant planets, Sheppard said. That's why, in March 2017, the team was studying the sky from the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. If you said four, you might be Galileo.

Recovery image of Valetudo from the Magellan telescope in May 2018; Jupiter is not in the field but off to the upper left.

The team had planned to use the observatory's Blanco four-meter telescope to scout for objects way out, beyond Pluto, and they also made a decision to train their gaze on Jupiter's neighborhood in the night sky.

The team's discovery brings Jupiter's total number of known moons to 79, more than any other planet in the Solar System.

The astronomers were looking for objects on the fringes of the solar system when they spotted the Jupiter moons. "We could kill two birds with one stone: survey for Jupiter moons and very distant objects at the same time". "We were able to go a little bit fainter than anyone has been able to go in the past", Scott Sheppard of Carnegie Institution for Science told the Washington Post, "That's why we were able to find these new moons".

During a quest to find Planet Nine, a mysterious planet believed to be on the edge of our solar system, astronomers discovered something else: 12 new moons around Jupiter.

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

"Our other discovery is a real oddball and has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon", Sheppard said. The retrograde set of moons take about two years to complete a lap around Jupiter, and the prograde ones take under a year.

Another two moons rest in an inner section of moons that orbit in prograde. They also compared the prevalence of Jupiter-like worlds around systems without super-Earths. What makes it odd, however, is its maverick orbit: it is the only prograde Jovian satellite discovered to date to orbit at the same distances as the retrograde moons.

The team's results are not yet available in a peer-reviewed journal, as Sheppard's team is now running supercomputer simulations to try and figure out how often Valetudo might collide with a retrograde moon.

But the discovery might be short-lived because Valetudo faces destruction in head-on collisions.

Elucidating the complex influences that shaped a moon's orbital history can teach scientists about our solar system's early years. "Most of the small objects that helped build the planets we see today were incorporated into the planets themselves, and these moons are all that remains", Sheppard wrote. Researchers at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center used Sheppard's team's data to estimate when another collision might happen. Even though a dozen new moons is a pretty good haul, Sheppard expects that more searching will turn up even more moons.