Tuesday, 14 August, 2018

Jupiter has ten more moons bringing the total to 79

Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter Jupiter has ten more moons bringing the total to 79
Doris Mccormick | 18 July, 2018, 14:56

The number of known objects orbiting Jupiter is now 79, the most of any planet in the solar system.

What just happened? In their hunt for Planet Nine, a proposed planet that may lie beyond Pluto, astronomers at the Carnegie Institution for Science discovered 12 moons orbiting Jupiter.

Using the Blanco four-metre telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile - which had been recently fitted with a new and highly sensitive instrument called the "Dark Energy Camera", which is about the size of a small auto - they detected objects that seemed to be moving against the background stars.

"It takes several observations to confirm an object actually orbits around Jupiter", Williams said. 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.

And then there's the oddball moon. This is in contrast to other Jupiter moons such as Ganymede - the biggest in the solar system with a diameter of 5,268km.

This moon, now called Valetudo, moves in a prograde motion, though it is slightly inclined compared to the orbits of the other moons.

At less than two miles (3.2km) wide, the moons are all very small, which is why they have only now been identified thanks to the team's modern, sensitive telescopes.

"We were able to go a little bit fainter than anyone has been able to go in the past", Sheppard said, "and that's why we were able to find these new moons". "What these other objects were has been a mystery".

Most of the prograde moons orbit much closer to the planet than the retrograde moons do.

Two of them are pretty straightforward. These inner prograde moons all have similar orbital distances and angles of inclinations around Jupiter and so are thought to also be fragments of a larger moon that was broken apart.

But the last moon is a weird one.

"Our other discovery is a real oddball and has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon", said Scott Sheppard, lead scientist on the project and a staff scientist at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, D. C.

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Nine of the newly discovered moons have retrograde orbits, meaning that they orbit in the opposite direction of the planet's spin.

Astronomers suspect that the retrograde moons may be the remains of larger moons that were destroyed in head-on collisions with prograde objects. That means the revolve around Jupiter opposite from the planet's rotation.

"What's really cool for me here is what they're calling their oddball", Horner told ScienceAlert.

Also, if the moons had formed earlier, there likely would have been more crashes, the team explained.

If they had formed earlier, the influence of gas and dust would have created drag and caused them to spiral inward to the planet, lost forever.

It is possible the various orbital moon groupings we see today were formed in the distant past through this exact mechanism.

The team of astronomers originally wasn't even looking for the 12 new moons.

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.

"This moon is going down the highway the wrong way", Sheppard said.

"A full paper will likely be written after these simulations are done in a few months".

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.

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