Jupiter has ten more moons bringing the total to 79

Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter

Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter

The orbits of the twelve newly discovered moons of Jupiter are shown here in bold.

The solar system is more and more like a space oddity - Jupiter-like planets are more common around stars that also host giant-size versions of our planet, while our solar system possesses Jupiter but no such "super-Earth", a new study finds. It's out where the outer, retrograde moons are, but it's orbiting Jupiter in the prograde direction, driving into the oncoming traffic.

The "oddball" moon, which has been named Valetudo after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene, has an orbit that is dissimilar to any other known moon around Jupiter.

"Two of the new discoveries are part of a closer, inner group of moons that orbit in the prograde, or same direction as the planet's rotation", they added.

It takes around 18 months to orbit Jupiter, and its orbit passes that of the retrograde moons, which makes collisions pretty likely. Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science says he and his colleagues had been trying to track down a giant planet they think may be lurking at the outer reaches of our solar system. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust", Dr. Sheppard said. Like the others, they, too, are thought to be fragments of a larger moon that slammed into something else.

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. Seven fall in a farther out "retrograde" cluster (red) rotating against the planet's spin, their opposing path kickstarted when ancient moons collided with comets, asteroids, or other moons. If the collisions had happened earlier, the moons would likely have interacted with dust and gas leftover from forming Jupiter and been dragged into the planet.

Most of the discoveries were made with the Dark Energy Camera on the Blanco 4-metre telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile, operated by the National Optical Astronomical Observatory of the United States. By contrast, retrograde moons were probably objects that once were wandering around the solar system and got snared by Jupiter's gravity. "So, the whole process took a year".

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The moons are small, ranging from just one kilometre to three kilometres in width.

Europa is believed to have a vast liquid ocean beneath its icy surface and is among the likely habitable places in the Solar System beyond our own Earth.

Nine of the new moons are in a group of more distant moons in prograde orbits. But Valetudo, in addition to being the smallest discovered, orbits in prograde, or the same direction as the planet's spin.

It's possible the various orbital moon groupings we see today were formed in the distant past through this exact mechanism.

Which raises the question of how long the tiny moon has left.

During its full opposition the planet was brightest in Britain on May between 9:30pm and 4:30am BST while in the U.S. it peaked on May 9 between 1:10am and 6:20am ET.

From Jupiter's entire collection of 79 moons, Sheppard has been involved in the discovery of 54 of them, including most of the known retrograde moons.

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