12 new moons discovered around Jupiter

18 Juillet, 2018, 01:40 | Auteur: Therese Cote

And astronomers have just announced the discovery of a dozen more.

The new find boosts Jupiter's moon count to 79, easily making it the most populous place for moons in our solar system.

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. University of Hawaii's Dave Tholen and Northern Arizona University's Chad Trujillo are also part of the planet search team.

But cosmic serendipity placed the moons in front of their telescope.

A greater number of irregular moons because it tells us about a time during Jupiter's formation when the planet was still growing. That's why, in March 2017, the team was studying the sky from the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

But what's particularly wild about these newly discovered moons is that researchers weren't even looking for them. "It was a long process", said Scott Sheppard, who led the effort at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC.

Jupiter's moons range in size from shrimpy satellites to whopping space hulks.

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.

All of the moons orbit much further out than the Galilean moons you may have heard of: Europa, Ganymede, Io and Callisto.

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Two other new moons were found to be part of a closer group that orbits in the prograde, or same direction as Jupiter's rotation.

The team is calling one of the new moons an "oddball" because of its unusual orbit.

The tiny moon is likely to be named Valetudo after the Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter, the goddess of health and hygiene.

Gareth Williams, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and director at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, predicted that "there aren't any bigger objects undiscovered out there" around Jupiter. The new moons are faint, so researchers haven't been able to spot features on their surfaces or clues to what they're made of.

The survey looked for objects one kilometre and larger, so there is a chance that there are other, smaller "moonlets" in orbit around the giant Jupiter. But every so often, the planets seem to align (no pun intended) and a new discovery just falls right into their laps. In the meantime, they're waiting for the IAU to formally accept "Valetudo" as the name for the oddball moon. It crosses the orbits of other moons, and that's where things might get dicey.

These two groups of prograde and retrograde moons consist of "irregular" satellites, or moons whose orbits have irregular, or noncircular, shapes. Two of them go round in a prograde motion, in the same direction to Jupiter's spin.

They also have a retrograde orbit, or the opposite direction to the spin of Jupiter on its axis. Yet it's orbiting in the same direction as the planet, against the swarm's traffic.

The newly discovered moons await naming, a task for which the public may be enlisted, so it's a good idea to brush up on the IAU's naming rules for Jovian moons - and which names have already been taken.

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