A dozen new moons of Jupiter discovered, including one 'oddball'

A dozen new moons of Jupiter discovered, including one 'oddball'

The discoveries bring the number of Jupiter's known moons to 79, the most around a single planet in our solar system.

The Carnegie Institution team, led by Scott Sheppard, didn't set out to find even a single new Jovian moon. 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. Confirmation of the moons required multiple observations, and those data enabled a calculation of the moons' orbits. Measuring less than a mile in diameter, it's the smallest of Jupiter's known moons, and Sheppard describes it as an "oddball".

Credit: Carnegie Institution for Science. "We think they're something in between the rocky asteroids, which are interior to Jupiter, and the icy comets, which are exterior to Neptune", Sheppard says.

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.

Nine of the moons are part of an outer "swarm" that orbit in the opposite, or retrograde, direction of Jupiter's spin, taking about two years to complete one trip around the planet.

The researchers believe the oddball may be a leftover fragment from a larger prograde moon that split apart from repeated collisions.

The last moon is fittingly weird, considering how freaky Jupiter is. "What these other objects were has been a mystery". Of the 12 newly surveyed moons, 11 have orbits that fall neatly in line with previously discovered satellites. Of the twelve, only three moons orbit in a prograde direction, and are closer to Jupiter.

Two of them are pretty straightforward. It has a prograde orbit at a distance where the rest of Jupiter's moons have retrograde orbits. TheyÂre calling one moon an ‘oddball because of its unusual orbit.

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But one moon, tentatively dubbed "Valetudo" (green), is an oddball, orbiting with Jupiter's spin but within the retrograde cluster.

Valetudo, as the team calls this oddball moon, is named after the Roman goddess of health, cleanliness and hygiene.

The team that discovered the moons was searching for a hypothetical massive planet that might exist at the far fringes of our solar system, often referred to as Planet Nine or Planet X. "Thus head-on collisions are likely".

Europa, one of Jupiter's larger moons, casts a shadow on the planet's surface. The irregular satellites didn't form around Jupiter in the same way that the planets formed around the Sun, or the regular satellites around Jupiter, from a flat disc in a prograde orbit. "Not because of its orbit, but rather because it's so small".

According to Horner, if Valetudo had formed early on, it would have been slowed by the gas and dust present at the formation of Jupiter, and fallen into the planet.

Maybe we need something similar for tiny moons. The solar system's ocean worlds might be the most promising place to look.

This survivor could be the last remnant of a once-larger prograde moon that collided with an object to create the retrograde moons. Sheppard said another collision will likely happen during the solar system's lifetime.

"A full paper will likely be written after these simulations are done in a few months".

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