One of the new moons in the outer group is particularly unique, according to astronomerScott Sheppard at the Carnegie Institution for Science, who led the team that first spotted the moons past year. Additional observations over a year confirmed the orbits of the moons, all of which are 3 kilometers or less in diameter.
After the team of scientists initially saw the moons via a telescope at Chile's Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, at least four other telescopes were used to verify the moons.
But that didn't necessarily suggest they were moons - they could have been asteroids orbiting the sun.
Two of the new moons are part of the prograde group, a bunch of moons that are relatively close to Jupiter and rotate in the same direction as the planet. But Valetudo, in addition to being the smallest discovered, orbits in prograde, or the same direction as the planet's spin.
They all turned out to be moons of Jupiter.
Astronomers looking for Planet Nine-a celestial body predicted to orbit in the outer reaches of our solar system-stumbled upon 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter.
Jupiter's moons range in size from shrimpy satellites to whopping space hulks.
"These moons are the last remnants of the building blocks of the giant planets as all other material in the giant planet region likely fell into the planets to help form them", Sheppard said.
As a result, head-on collisions are much more likely to occur between the "oddball" prograde and the retrograde moons, which are moving in opposite directions.
Sheppard and his colleagues have proposed naming the oddball moon Valetudo, after a minor goddess and great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter.
Sheppard, who led the team, said Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where they were looking for extremely distant solar system objects so they were serendipitously able to look for new moons around Jupiter at the same time. The team's goal was to scan the sky for evidence of a massive ninth planet in the outer solar system.
"So we could also search for Jupiter moons while looking for things that are well beyond Pluto", Sheppard says.
Before Sheppard's team conducted their survey, there were 69 known Jovian moons, but there's always been reason to believe there are quite a few more.
Astronomers group Jupiter's moons by their distance from the planet as well as their orbital direction. That tilt has the weird little moon crossing the paths of those outer retrograde moons. That puts it on a possible collision course with a retrograde moon.
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.
If Planet Nine exists, it could be the runt of the giant planets, Sheppard said. This is in contrast to other Jupiter moons such as Ganymede - the biggest in the solar system with a diameter of 5,268km. In the meantime, they're waiting for the IAU to formally accept "Valetudo" as the name for the oddball moon.
"If we do find this planet in the next few years, it would be a pretty awesome discovery for astronomy. Thus head-on collisions are likely".
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