Risk of collision as 'oddball' moon found among new Jupiter satellites

19 Juillet, 2018, 13:08 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • 12 new jupiter moons

A team led by astronomer Scott Sheppard out of the Carnegie Institution for Science discovered the moons in 2017 using one of the most powerful digital cameras in the world, the Dark Energy Camera.

Based on the team's observations, Gareth Williams at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center was able to calculate the orbits of the moons.

But one moon, tentatively dubbed "Valetudo" (green), is an oddball, orbiting with Jupiter's spin but within the retrograde cluster. Followup observations were conducted from four other telescopes, in Chile, Arizona and Hawaii, to confirm the finds. "So, the whole process took a year". "It's basically like you're driving down the highway in the wrong direction", Sheppard says.

The existence of so many small satellites suggests that they arose from cosmic collisions after Jupiter itself formed, more than 4 billion years ago. What they found were 12 new moons orbiting the planet.

All of these new moons are very small, only about one to three kilometers across (a kilometer is 0.6 miles).

The newly-discovered retrograde moons are estimated to take about two years to orbit Jupiter.

The announcement on Tuesday by researchers in the United States brought the total number of the moons known to be circling the giant gas planet to 79.

Risk of collision as 'oddball' moon found among new Jupiter satellites

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 team proposed naming that tiny moon Valetudo, after the goddess of health and hygiene. The retrograde moons take roughly two years to orbit the planet.

Jupiter has dozens of moons, including the large Galilean satellites, including Io and Europa, in this composite image. The circumstances of the moons' orbits lend further support to the view that they were formed long after Saturn and its larger moons coalesced from a primordial cloud of gas and dust. Because the planet is so big and bright, researchers surmised that unrecorded moons could be faint, or even obscured, or quite far from the gas giant. Nine objects, which are in three different groups, are likely the remnants of larger moons that broke apart during collisions.

A moon is defined as any object, regardless of size, that orbits a planet, not the Sun. The orbits of 9 other small Jovian moons are yet unknown. Sheppard's team speculates Valetudo could be a remnant of a collision between one or more 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. For the other 11 moons, Sheppard said they might let the public help out.

Because Valetudo's orbit crosses the orbits of some of the outer retrograde moons, it's possible that it suffered a head-on collision in the past. Now, thanks to a search that was primarily for Planet Nine, astronomers have discovered even more - 79 in total.

It also shows that, while we continue to gaze out into the universe for new discoveries, we are certainly not done discovering new objects, in our very own "backyard".

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