Astronomers Discover Twelve New Jovian Moons | Astronomy

Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter

The smallest moon is just over a half-mile across, while the largest is about three miles in diameter.

Researchers found the new moons thanks to a telescope upgrade.

Dr. Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center used the team's observations to calculate orbits for the new Jovian moons. And these new moons point to a violent and destructive past. Two of them go round in a prograde motion, in the same direction to Jupiter's spin. He and his team have been photographing the skies with some of today's best telescope technology, hoping to catch sight of this mysterious ninth planet. Thus, they orbit in the same direction as the planet.

While searching for a hypothetical planet at the far edges of our solar system known as Planet Nine or Planet X, a team of astronomers discovered 12 new moons around Jupiter.

"This is an unstable situation", said Sheppard. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust".

"So we were serendipitously able to look for new moons around Jupiter while at the same time looking for planets at the fringes of our Solar System", Dr Sheppard added.

This twelfth moon has a wide, 1.5-Earth-year orbit around Jupiter and travels among the retrograde moons.

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But he said he expects astronomers will discover more tiny moons in the coming decades.

"Valetudo is like driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road", Sheppard wrote in an email to Fast Company. While nine of the other moons orbit in the opposite direction, farther out in the retrograde group. Two of those are part of Jupiter's group of inner prograde moons, meaning that they orbit in the same direction as the planet rotates.

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. Valetudo might be a shattered remnant of one such prograde collider. To get the clearest, crispest, most sweeping views from Earth, it helps to get far, far away from other man-made creations, such as electric lights and buildings. The nine moons are thought to be the fragments of three larger bodies that collided with asteroids, comets or other moons. Sheppard's team speculates Valetudo could be a remnant of a collision between one or more moons. It orbits Jupiter in and amongst where the retrograde moons reside, however, it follows a highly risky prograde orbit as it does so.

Finding lots of these small moons also tells us about conditions in the early solar system.

Europa, one of Jupiter's larger moons, casts a shadow on the planet's surface. "Magnificent desolation", Sheppard says, is the ideal. "They were like vacuums, they sucked up all that material and that created the planets", Sheppard explains. That means the revolve around Jupiter opposite from the planet's rotation. It's also possibly the smallest moon known around the planet. The team's goal was to scan the sky for evidence of a massive ninth planet in the outer solar system.

Sheppard and his colleagues speculate that Valetudo was probably once much larger, but was ground down, over the course of billions of years, as a result of collisions.

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