Astronomers discover 12 more moons orbiting Jupiter, including an 'oddball'

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

Dr. Sheppard and colleagues first spotted the moons in the spring of 2017 while they were looking for distant Solar System objects as part of their hunt for a hypothetical Planet Nine.

These are images of one of the new moons, named Valetudo.

Sheppard, Chad Trujillo of Northern Arizona University and David Tholen of the University of Hawaii are on a quest to find as many faint, distant objects on the edge of the solar system as they can.

Illustration of the new moons orbiting Jupiter
Astronomers discover 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter - one on collision course with the others

But cosmic serendipity placed the moons in front of their telescope. "It is likely one of these spacecraft will fly by one of these distant Jupiter moons to get a close-up view". This proved to be quite helpful, as the unknown moons around Jupiter are small and dim.

"We're looking for new possible planets and dwarf planets in our solar system, just seeing what is out there", said Sheppard.

This Hubble telescope image of the giant planet Jupiter reveals the impact sites of two fragments from comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. Two of them have relatively close-in orbits, going in the same direction as Jupiter's spin.

Due to their sizes - just 0.6 to 1.9 miles (1 to 3km) in diameter - these moons are more influenced by surrounding gas and dust.

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Astronomers have accidentally discovered a dozen new moons circling the planet Jupiter. Researchers have proposed naming the "oddball" Valetudo, after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene.

Gareth Williams, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and director at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, predicted that "there aren't any bigger objects undiscovered out there" around Jupiter.

Explorers looking for a planet and discovered several celestial bodies.

The survey looked for objects one kilometre and larger, so there is a chance that there are other, smaller "moonlets" in orbit around the giant Jupiter. Maybe a dwarf moon for anything that's one kilometer in size or smaller. Thus, they orbit in the same direction as the planet.

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Our solar system is full of moons of many different kinds, just as diverse and wonderful as the planets they orbit.

Astronomers think retrograde moons have a different origin story from prograde moons, which travel in the same direction that their planet rotates. Each takes about two years to circle the planet. They are part of a larger swarm of moons orbiting a long distance out from Jupiter.

The effect of opposition is similar to the effect of the full moon seen once a month when Earth is positioned directly between our natural satellite and the sun.

With the moon's orbit set at an angle to the rest, this means that Valetudo doesn't take the riskiest path around Jupiter, but it does dive through the orbits of the retrograde moons, inviting a collision at some point. Those retrograde moons are then further grouped into three distinct sections.

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With current technology, as well as the next generation of telescopes that will have even more capabilities, Sheppard believes that they could definitively say whether Planet Nine exists in the next few years.