12 new moons discovered around Jupiter

Two of the newly discovered moons orbit much closer to Jupiter and have a prograde orbit, meaning that they orbit in the same direction as the planet.

The moons were first discovered during the search for Planet X, the hunt for a massive planet beyond Pluto. A team of astronomers is reporting the discovery of a dozen new moons circling the giant gas planet. Most likely to be pieces of a once larger moon that was broken up in orbit, they take almost a year to complete a lap around Jupiter.

The so-called "oddball" has such a unique orbit that it is at risk of smashing into the other moons - a cosmic collision that could risk wiping the space rocks out.

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

"Our other discovery is a real oddball and has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon", Sheppard explained.

The last moon is fittingly weird, considering how freaky Jupiter is.

The team of astronomers originally wasn't even looking for the 12 new moons. That brings the total number of Jovian moons to 79.

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The moons Sheppard spied are farther-flung and tiny, each no more than two miles in diameter.

The moon, which has the proposed name Valetudo, orbits in the same direction as Jupiter's rotation, unlike all the other moons in the outer group.

"We think there were originally only three retrograde moons and they were each broken apart through collisions with other objects".

The team, led by astronomer Scott S. Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science, was actually using ground-based telescopes to look for evidence of the mysterious Planet Nine, a proposed outer Solar System body. Of the twelve, only three moons orbit in a prograde direction, and are closer to Jupiter. Most of these prograde moons take less than a year to travel around the planet.

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. The largest Galilean moon, Ganymede, is bigger than the planet Mercury. The "oddball" moon, known as Valetudo, can be seen in green in a prograde orbit that crosses over the retrograde orbits.

Dr Sheppard said: 'This is an unstable situation. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust". When Jupiter and the other giant planets were forming, the solar system was a disk and gas and dust that surrounded the infant Sun. They are part of a larger group, all with similar distances and angles of inclination, taking little less than a year to orbit Jupiter.

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. Several telescopes were used to confirm the finds, including the 6.5-meter Magellan telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory in Chile; the 4-meter Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory Arizona (thanks to Audrey Thirouin, Nick Moskovitz and Maxime Devogele); the 8-meter Subaru Telescope and the Univserity of Hawaii 2.2 meter telescope (thanks to Dave Tholen and Dora Fohring at the University of Hawaii); and 8-meter Gemini Telescope in Hawaii (thanks to Director's Discretionary Time to recover Valetudo). "If one did happen, we would be able to detect it from Earth, but it is unlikely to happen anytime soon". It's just 1 kilometer wide, which makes it Jupiter's smallest moon, and takes a year and a half to orbit the planet.

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