Wednesday, 12 December, 2018


Astronomers accidentally discover a dozen new moons around Jupiter

Astronomers accidentally discover a dozen new moons around Jupiter Astronomers accidentally discover a dozen new moons around Jupiter
Kristine Garrett | 18 July, 2018, 08:53

Famed astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered the first four moons of Jupiter way back in the early 1600s. With a total of 79 moons, Jupiter is now the most lunar-rich planet in the solar system. After verification, they are being reported today by the International Astronomical Union, based in Paris.

At the time, the researchers were searching for a theorized massive planet far beyond Pluto, known as Planet X or Planet Nine, which is thought to be tugging on the orbits of distant solar system objects.

Using the Blanco four-metre telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile - which had been recently fitted with a new and highly sensitive instrument called the "Dark Energy Camera", which is about the size of a small auto - they detected objects that seemed to be moving against the background stars.

The inner moons take about a year to circle Jupiter, while the outer moons take twice as long. Those moons orbit close to Jupiter and travel in the same direction as the planet spins.

The team is calling one of the new moons an "oddball" because of its unusual orbit.

It's been nicknamed Valetudo after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene who is the great-granddaughter of the god Jupiter. This means it crosses paths with the outer retrograde moons and could collide with them.

Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, wasknown to have 67 moons circling around it, including 4 that are easily visible from Earth using just binoculars.

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.

With 67 other known moons flying around Jupiter, there's already a good amount of traffic around the gas planet, as shown in the illustration above. And with Jupiter being the biggest planet in our solar system, astronomers need to be able to see as much of the space around it as possible.

"This moon is going down the highway the wrong way", Sheppard said. These satellites are part of a large group of moons that orbit in retrograde far from Jupiter.

But the last moon is a weird one.

Eleven of the newly discovered moons are considered normal, with diameters between 1 and 3 kilometres.

Nine of the new moons are in the retrograde group, a distant bunch of moons that rotate in the opposite direction of Juipter.

One of the new moons was described as a "real oddball" by researcher Scott Sheppard at the Carnegie Institution for Science, because of its tiny size, it measuring just about a half-mile (one kilometer) across. But Valetudo, in addition to being the smallest discovered, orbits in prograde, or the same direction as the planet's spin. Of the 12 latest moons to join Jupiter's family, it's a maverick whose odd orbit may give astronomers crucial insights to understanding how the moons of Jupiter came to be.

Dr Sheppard said: 'This is an unstable situation. In the meantime, they're waiting for the IAU to formally accept "Valetudo" as the name for the oddball moon. They realized they could observe Jupiter at the same time. Because they formed between the two belts, the moons are probably composed of rock and ice.

"If we do find this planet in the next few years, it would be a pretty wonderful discovery for astronomy".

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