How a Desert Mountain Telescope Revealed Jupiter's Odd New Moon

How a Desert Mountain Telescope Revealed Jupiter's Odd New Moon

Using the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile, with its highly-sensitive Dark Energy Camera, however, gave the team a distinct advantage.

"We just haven't observed them enough", said Williams, who helped confirm the moons' orbits.

Two of the new moons are found closer to Jupiter, orbiting the gas giant in prograde - in the same direction as Jupiter's spin.

The researchers, from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, picked out one of the 12 moons as an "oddball". So we think they're intermediate between rocky asteroids and icy comets. Until the announcement this morning by the International Astronomical Union of the discovery of an additional 10 moons about the gas-giant planet.

The new moons, pictured as circles above, were discovered past year by a team of astronomers.

Most of the prograde moons orbit much closer to the planet than the retrograde moons do. Nearly all of Jupiter's prograde moons are believed to be fragments of a larger moon that broke apart. "What these other objects were has been a mystery".

Due to their sizes-one to three kilometers-these moons are more influenced by surrounding gas and dust. Understanding that smaller moons still exist in the outer regions of Jupiter's orbital regions suggests to astronomers that they formed after the planets.

Two of them are pretty straightforward. They are part of a larger group, all with similar distances and angles of inclination, taking little less than a year to orbit Jupiter. Astronomers believe they were once all part of a larger moon that broke apart. Each is only one to three kilometres wide, and thus would be very hard to spot using most telescopes.

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The 12th moon is being called an oddball because, while it orbits in the same direction as Jupiter's spin, it is much farther away than the others orbiting in that direction and it is comparatively tiny. Sheppard's girlfriend came up with a name for it: Valetudo, the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter, and the goddess of health and hygiene.

Nine of the new moons are in the retrograde group, a distant bunch of moons that rotate in the opposite direction of Juipter. Sheppard, who is broadly interested in the formation of solar systems and has been involved in the discovery of 48 of Jupiter's known moons, realized this was the flawless opportunity to advance two separate research goals with the same telescope data. "Thus head-on collisions are likely".

The chance find brings Jupiter's tally of moons to 79, 17 more than Saturn, the planet with the second most. 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. They found a dozen small moons.

Scientists believe moons like Valetudo and its siblings appeared soon after Jupiter formed.

This survivor could be the last remnant of a once-larger prograde moon that collided with an object to create the retrograde moons. Such a collision would quickly break apart and grind the object down to dust, Sheppard said.

"A full paper will likely be written after these simulations are done in a few months". It also has an orbit that runs in the opposite direction and crosses the path of other moons, making head-on collisions between space rocks likely.

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