Jupiter's moon count reaches 79

Federico Mansilla
Julio 20, 2018

Now, the count has touched 79 after the discovery of a dozen moons and it may raise in the future. In this particular case, astronomers looking for the elusive Planet X beyond Pluto ended up finding an extra set of moons around Jupiter, Science Daily reports.

Artist rendering of the orbital paths around Jupiter.

The initial discovery of most of the new moons were made on the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile and operated by the National Optical Astronomical Observatory of the United States.

The other nine moons, grouped in clusters of three, have retrograde orbits.

Because Jupiter is also a bright planet, astronomers have had to deal with the issue of glare and scattered light affecting the space where moons can exist. The fresh haul of natural satellites brings the total number of Jovian moons to 79, more than are known to circle any other planet in our cosmic neighbourhood. So we think they're intermediate between rocky asteroids and icy comets. Of the twelve, only three moons orbit in a prograde direction, and are closer to Jupiter. The second is that it "has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon", Sheppard says.

These two moons are 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. One possibility is NASA's Europa moon mission planned in the late 2020s or early 2030s. The proposed name for this new moon is Valetudo, who is the Roman goddess of health and hygiene and Jupiter's great-granddaughter. Maybe 100 or more of the really small ones. This new moon, called Valetudo, is a bit of a renegade.

Size isn't a requirement to be a moon - there's no such thing as a dwarf moon.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. The largest Galilean moon, Ganymede, is bigger than the planet Mercury.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Several times a year, Scott Sheppard heads to telescopes around the world to search for distant objects in our solar system. In March past year, he was at the Blanco four-meter telescope in Chile. During their survey in March 2017, the astronomers realized that Jupiter had moved into their field of view.

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The oddball moon crosses the orbits of the outer retrograde moons. This instrument has a large camera sensor, allowing Sheppard and his team to search the entire vicinity of Jupiter with just a handful of exposures. They found 12, two of which were announced past year. They are about one to two kilometers (miles) across, said astronomer Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.

"These objects started orbiting Jupiter, instead of falling into it".

SHEPPARD: They're going around the planet in the opposite direction that Jupiter rotates.

Turns out Jupiter has 12 extra moons we didn't know about.

Sheppard told nature, Jupiter may have yet another undiscovered moon.

The oddball is thought to be Jupiter's smallest moon, having a diameter of less than a kilometre.

The remaining moon is less than a kilometer across, further out than the two conventional moons and has a 1.5-year orbit-and the orbit is inclined.

The orbit of "oddball" Valetudo, shown in green, compared to the retrograde moons. Sheppard expects there could be even more small moons lurking out there.

SHEPPARD: Mini-moon - yeah, that has a pretty good ring to it, too.

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