Up until recently, the total number of known satellites orbiting around Jupiter sat at 67, but now scientists with the Carnegie Institution for Science have announced the discovery of 12 new moons, bringing the total up to 79.
The last moon is an "oddball", according to Sheppard's team, because it has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon.
Sheppard's team found the moons while searching for Planet Nine, a distant, undiscovered planet thought to be altering the paths of objects in our solar system. With this discovery, Jupiter now has a staggering 79 known orbiting moons - more than any other planet in the solar system.
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The discovery, which was confirmed by observations made with several other telescopes, delighted other astronomers."I love this result", Jackie Faherty, an astronomer with the American Museum of Natural History in NY who was not part of the team, said in an email. Two of the discoveries are part of an inner group in the prograde that orbit in the same direction as the planet's rotation. They saw a new group of objects moving around the giant gas planet but didn't know whether they were moons or asteroids passing near Jupiter.
The most interesting of the new moons is Valetudo (pronounced val-eh-TOO-doh), named after the ancient Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter, the goddess of health and hygiene.
It is not a new fact that Jupiter has dozens of moons. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust". However, during the hunt, researchers caught glimpse of the moons back in March of 2017 but needed to confirm whether they were actually locked in orbit with Jupiter. By contrast, retrograde moons were probably objects that once were wandering around the solar system and got snared by Jupiter's gravity.
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With less than one kilometer in diameter, Valetudo is considered to be Jupiter's smallest moon. "We think these moons are an intermediate type of object, half-rock and half-ice". Sheppard says "Valetudo is like driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road". Valetudo is the goddess of health and hygiene, which can not help with this little oddball moon's self-confidence. One possibility is NASA's Europa moon mission planned in the late 2020s or early 2030s. Because of that small moon's orbit, it may be eventually be destined for an crash. Not yet, anyway. "Right now the only definition of a moon is something that orbits the planet", Sheppard said, as long as it isn't human-made.
The researchers discover new Solar System bodies, and calculate their orbits, by photographing the same part of the sky weeks or months apart. The orbits of 9 other small Jovian moons are yet unknown. They were also the first to realise that there just might be a massive planet out there in the outer reaches of the solar system. This gave the team a unique opportunity to search for new moons around Jupiter in addition to objects located past Pluto, according to the statement.
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