Twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter - one may collide with the others

Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter

Sheppard, Dave Tholen of the University of Hawaii and Chad Trujillo of Northern Arizona University discovered the most distant known solar system body and were among the first to consider the possibility of a massive, undetected planet beyond Pluto, a claim shared by veteran planet hunder Mike Brown and his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology.

The twelve moons have been broadly clustered into three groups.

In terms of what it should be called, one of the leading suggestions has been Valetudo, the goddess of health and hygiene, and the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter.

There are almost 200 moons in our solar system.

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.

A greater number of irregular moons because it tells us about a time during Jupiter's formation when the planet was still growing. This means it crosses paths with the outer retrograde moons and could collide with them. These moons take only a year to orbit Jupiter, which gives you an idea of how much distance separates the two groups. If moon circles a planet in the opposite direction of a rotating planet, that orbit is retrograde. Sheppard describes this as "an unstable situation", noting that collisions between two moons are possible due to the 12th moon's odd orbit. 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. Nine of them have retrograde orbits, going in the opposite direction to Jupiter's spin.




"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. Two of them go round in a prograde motion, in the same direction to Jupiter's spin. Two of the discoveries are part of an inner group in the prograde that orbit in the same direction as the planet's rotation. "By looking at these outer moons", he said, "we can get an insight into what the objects were like that ended up forming the planets we see today".

In fact, Sheppard and his team at Carnegie think that this moon could be all that's left of a previous collision in orbit around Jupiter.

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

This isn't likely to be the last new moons that we hear about coming from the gas giant, and astronomers believe there are still plenty smaller satellites that remain undetected. While the scientists' planet hunt has so far come up dry, the team, using the recently upgraded Blanco 4-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, also had Jupiter in view, leading to the discovery.

The team's results are not yet available in a peer-reviewed journal, as Sheppard's team is now running supercomputer simulations to try and figure out how often Valetudo might collide with a retrograde moon.

Once they finish running and analyzing the simulations, the team plans to publish the results in early 2019. That makes it a powerful tool for surveying the night sky in search of faint objects.

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