A dozen new moons have been discovered orbiting Jupiter

How many moons does Jupiter have?

Sheppard, whose report appears in the International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Electronic Circular, suspects that Valetudo is the final remnant of a once much larger moon that has been ground to dust by collisions in the past.

The researchers targeted objects moving with Jupiter in the foreground, which revealed the 12 new moons.

Nine of the dozen moons are well away from Jupiter and have retrograde orbits, meaning they go around the planet in what we'd think of as the "wrong direction".

The twelfth moon, however, is rather peculiar.

The small moon rotates at the distance of the retrograde moons, but it's traveling in the other direction.

It takes around 18 months to orbit Jupiter, and its orbit passes that of the retrograde moons, which makes collisions pretty likely. The Blanco four-meter telescope, at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, is equipped with a camera able to spot very faint objects.

Nine of the newly discovered moons are part of an outer group that orbit in the opposite, or retrograde, direction of Jupiter's spin, taking about two years to complete one trip around the planet. Which direction the moons swing around the planet depends on how they were first captured by Jupiter's gravitational field.

Scott Sheppard: "It's been about a decade since the last moons around Jupiter were discovered".

12 new moons discovered around Jupiter
The " oddball " moon, known as Valetudo, can be seen in green in a prograde orbit that crosses over the retrograde orbits . 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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The astronomers were not intentionally searching for new Jovian moons when they began observing.

They take about two years to orbit Jupiter, which is the largest planet in the solar system.

Scientists were looking for objects on the fringes of the solar system previous year when they pointed their telescopes close to Jupiter's backyard, according to Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington. More than 400 years later, astronomers are still finding moons orbiting the solar system's largest planet.

The 2 new regular prograde moons join 15 other previously discovered prograde satellites that typically orbit Jupiter in about an Earth year or less. The largest Galilean moon, Ganymede, is bigger than the planet Mercury. They also include a cluster of moons beyond Callisto, shown in blue in the image above. But the moon Sheppard and his colleagues call "oddball" is different - instead of orbiting with the other prograde moons, its orbit takes it out as far as the retrograde moons.

These two groups of prograde and retrograde moons consist of "irregular" satellites, or moons whose orbits have irregular, or noncircular, shapes. Lines point to Valetudo, the newly discovered "oddball" moon. Jupiter has the most moons of any other planet.

It has most likely collided with other moons, breaking it down into the fragment it is today.

"The most interesting find is this object we're calling Valetudo", Sheppard says. "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".

These new moons probably formed in a place in our solar system known as the giant planet region, which is between the asteroid belt, dominated by rocky asteroids, and the Kuiper belt, dominated by icy comets.

It's been nicknamed Valetudo after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene who is the great-granddaughter of the god Jupiter. "Maybe there will have to be a new definition for the smaller moons". We already have a classification for dwarf planets.

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