Twelve new moons have been discovered orbiting Jupiter, raising to 79 the number of natural satellites known to be circling our solar system's biggest planet. According to astronomers involved in the discovery, one of the moons is even on what they call a "suicide orbit" with Jupiter's other moons, which will eventually lead to its violent destruction.
They were first spotted past year by a team of astronomers originally on the hunt for the elusive Planet Nine, a hypothetical body speculated to exist beyond Neptune.
The new find boosts Jupiter's moon count to 79, easily making it the most populous place for moons in our solar system. It has a prograde orbit like the closer group of moons, but during its trip around Jupiter, it crosses into the paths of those retrograde moons, resulting in an orbit that takes around one-and-a-half years to complete.
In 2014, this same team found the object with the most-distant known orbit in our Solar System and was the first to realize that an unknown massive planet at the fringes of our Solar System, far beyond Pluto, could explain the similarity of the orbits of several small extremely distant objects.
The new moons are small, reports Ben Guarino at The Washington Post, most less than two miles in diameter, a fraction of the size of Jupiter's four inner Galilean moons, one of which is larger than the planet Mercury. Two of the newly discovered moons were found among these prograde moons, and take a little less than a year to go around in their orbit once. The retrograde moons take almost two years to completely orbit Jupiter. The proposed name for this new moon is Valetudo, who is the Roman goddess of health and hygiene and Jupiter's great-granddaughter.
When Galileo first peered through his telescope at Jupiter in 1610, he was shocked to see that the planet was not alone-it was orbited by four moons, a fact that upended then-current theories of astronomy. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust."Some of Jupiter's moons and moon groupings, including the "oddball", could have formed from collisions like this, according to the statement".More news: Prime Day was the biggest shopping event in Amazon's history
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Speaking to theIndependent, he added: "It is as if the moon is travelling the wrong way down a crowded highway".
The scientists note that they were able to discover these new moons thanks to the lower detection threshold of the telescope.
The discovery of this collection of moons was actually made by accident as the team had been observing further into space in the hope of finding 'Planet Nine', the so-far theoretical planet that could exist at the farthest-flung part of our solar system. The confirmation of 10 was announced Tuesday.
The researchers discover new Solar System bodies, and calculate their orbits, by photographing the same part of the sky weeks or months apart.
The real oddity of this discovery is the twelfth new moon, which has been described as a real "oddball" for a number of reasons. Given the moons' stable orbits and kilometer-scale sizes, the collisions were likely chance events later in the solar system's history. These two moons, being a lot closer to the planet take less than a year to travel around Jupiter, say the researchers.