Wednesday, 12 December, 2018


'Oddball' among 12 new moons discovered around Jupiter

12 new jupiter moons 'Oddball' among 12 new moons discovered around Jupiter
Kristine Garrett | 19 July, 2018, 13:08

Gareth Williams, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and director at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, predicted that "there aren't any bigger objects undiscovered out there" around Jupiter.

It behaves slightly differently to the 11 other moons - so much so, in fact, that experts reckon it might be responsible for having smashed up some of the other floating objects that form the moons orbiting Jupiter. Confirmation came with help from a variety of observatories, including the 6.5-metre Magellan telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, the 4-metre Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory in Arizona, the 2.2-metre University of Hawaii telescope and the 8-metre Subaru and Gemini Telescopes, also in Hawaii. Two of the newly discovered moons were found among these prograde moons, and take a little less than a year to go around in their orbit once.

Jupiter's neighborhood was always crowded, but the discovery of 12 new moons around the giant planet makes it more intriguing.

They also have a retrograde orbit, or the opposite direction to the spin of Jupiter on its axis. Two of the discoveries are part of an inner group in the prograde that orbit in the same direction as the planet's rotation.

Famed astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered the first four moons of Jupiter way back in the early 1600s.

Illustration showing the newly discovered moon (in bold).

It's been nicknamed Valetudo after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene who is the great-granddaughter of the god Jupiter.

'Oddball' among 12 new moons discovered around Jupiter

So, unlike the closer-in prograde group of moons, this prograde moon has an orbit that crosses the outer retrograde moons. Those retrograde moons are then further grouped into three distinct sections. This proved to be quite helpful, as the unknown moons around Jupiter are small and dim. The Galilean moons - Ganymede, Io, Callisto and Europa - are the largest and can be seen from Earth using binoculars. Thus, they orbit in the same direction as the planet. It's more distant than Jupiter's prograde moons - those that orbit in the same direction as Jupiter's spin - and its orbit is much more inclined, crossing the orbits of the outer retrograde moons.

The moons had not been spotted before because they are tiny. Measuring less than a mile in diameter, it's the smallest of Jupiter's known moons, and Sheppard describes it as an "oddball".

Due to their sizes-one to three kilometers-these moons are more influenced by surrounding gas and dust. Because the planet is so big and bright, researchers surmised that unrecorded moons could be faint, or even obscured, or quite far from the gas giant.

Valetudo might be the last fragment of a larger moon that was destroyed by the retrograde moons, and its path means it too might eventually get demolished.

"The most interesting find is this object we're calling Valetudo", Sheppard says.

Bottom line: For a long time, Jupiter had been known to have dozens of moons. It's believed these moons are the remnants of larger space rocks that broke apart during collisions with asteroids, comets or other moons. It's known as Planet Nine or Planet X. Already, he and his team have discovered evidence of a potential planet beyond Pluto called Planet Nine.

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