Jupiter's moon count climbs to 79, including tiny 'oddball'

Jupiter as seen from Hubble.                  Space Telescope Science Institute

Jupiter as seen from Hubble. Space Telescope Science Institute

Astronomers have discovered 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter, bringing the total to 79. Sheppard, who is broadly interested in the formation of solar systems and has been involved in the discovery of 48 of Jupiter's known moons, realized this was the ideal opportunity to advance two separate research goals with the same telescope data.

"It takes several observations to confirm an object actually orbits around Jupiter, so the whole process took a year", said Gareth Williams, of the International Astronomical Union.

It also "has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon" and is "likely Jupiter s smallest known moon", he added.

Researchers from the Carnegie Institute of Science have "serendipitously" stumbled upon 12 new moons of Jupiter, one was which was described as an "oddball". Even though a dozen new moons is a pretty good haul, Sheppard expects that more searching will turn up even more moons. Nine open the heavenly bodies were fragments of moons once crashed on asteroids or stolknuvshis with each other. Two of them have relatively close-in orbits, going in the same direction as Jupiter's spin. This unusual moon could have come from a stray comet trapped by Jupiter's gravitational pull and destroyed long ago by collisions with the planet's retrograde moons.

Researchers suggest that these moons are leftovers of collisions between space rocks that are now encircling Jupiter. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust."Some of Jupiter's moons and moon groupings, including the "oddball", could have formed from collisions like this, according to the statement".

The oddball is thought to be Jupiter's smallest moon; it measures roughly 3,000 feet across.

Enlarge ImageA look at Jupiter's new moons.                  Carnegie Institution for Science
Enlarge ImageA look at Jupiter's new moons. Carnegie Institution for Science

Because Valetudo's orbit crosses the orbits of some of the outer retrograde moons, it's possible that it suffered a head-on collision in the past.

Sheppard and his team hope to further explore what could've caused these moons to form in order to get a better understanding of how the planet itself formed - and ultimately, more about how the rest of our galaxy came to be. Some of the outer moons, on the other hand, are retrograde moons, which orbit in the opposite direction.

The oddball could be the last remaining remnant of a once-larger moon that gave rise to the retrograde retinue during previous smash-ups.

Eleven of the twelve new moons follow these conventions, but Valetudo is the odd one out.

Due to their sizes - just 0.6 to 1.9 miles (1 to 3km) in diameter - these moons are more influenced by surrounding gas and dust. They are part of a larger swarm of moons orbiting a long distance out from Jupiter.

Because it travels in the complete opposite direction as the rest of the neighborhood, this tiny moon is particularly vulnerable to collisions and stands a good chance of being obliterated in the future by an impact with a retrograde moon. He explained that the institution had named the moon Valetudo, and while that may sound like Latin for Mommy's Special Little Boy, it's really the Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter. "If one did happen, we would be able to detect it from Earth, but it is unlikely to happen anytime soon". Nine of these moons are from a previously discovered cluster of moons that are in what astronomers call a retrograde orbit. But Valetudo, in addition to being the smallest discovered, orbits in prograde, or the same direction as the planet's spin.

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