Astronomers find 10 new moons around Jupiter, including 'oddball'

Astronomers find 10 new moons around Jupiter, including 'oddball'

"It's allowed us to cover the whole area around Jupiter in a few shots, unlike before, and we're able to go fainter than people have been able to go before", says Sheppard.

No other planet in the solar system has so many satellites.

The survey looked for objects one kilometre and larger, so there is a chance that there are other, smaller "moonlets" in orbit around the giant Jupiter.

Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, is the ninth-largest object in the solar system, bigger than the planet Mercury and dwarf planets like Pluto. As such, the orbit crosses those of the outer retrograde moons, raising the possibility of a possible head-on collision at some point in the future. Most likely to be pieces of a once larger moon that was broken up in orbit, they take almost a year to complete a lap around Jupiter.

Most of the new moons were revealed by the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American, located in Chile, which was recently outfitted with a Dark Energy Camera created to locate faint objects. Others including the oddball are "pro-grade" moons travelling with the planet's spin.

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. That puts them in the category known as retrograde moons.

The oddball is also the smallest of the moons that Sheppard and his colleagues found, just 1 kilometer across. This swarm may have originally been three separate moons that broke apart after collisions.

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The moons Sheppard spied are farther-flung and tiny, each no more than two miles in diameter. These regular satellites consist of an inner group of four moons that orbit very closely to the planet and a main group of four Galilean moons that are Jupiter's largest moons.

It has most likely collided with other moons, breaking it down into the fragment it is today.

Valetudo, as the team calls this oddball moon, is named after the Roman goddess of health, cleanliness and hygiene. It's believed that numerous tiny moons around Jupiter were once much larger, having broken up over time due to the stress of gravity or perhaps even collisions with each other, resulting in the smaller objects we see today. It's out where the outer, retrograde moons are, but it's orbiting Jupiter in the prograde direction, driving into the oncoming traffic.

The moons are remnants of what was out there, born in the disc of gas and dust around Jupiter after the planet formed and then captured and pulled into Jupiter's orbit.

Nine of the new moons are in a group of more distant moons in prograde orbits. As they reported Tuesday in an online notice from International Astronomical Union, all 12 have now been confirmed by other telescopes. It was probably right in the middle of the planets we know so well, Sheppard said.

But one moon, tentatively dubbed "Valetudo" (green), is an oddball, orbiting with Jupiter's spin but within the retrograde cluster. These moons orbit in a counter-clockwise direction in the view above. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust".

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

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