Twelve New Moons Discovered Orbiting Jupiter

By RJ Johnson - @rickerthewriter

July 17, 2018

12 new moons found orbiting Jupiter

Why yes in fact, that is a moon orbiting Jupiter - 12 of them to be exact - including one "oddball" object that could end up destroying the others.

Scientists say they've discovered 12 new moons orbiting around our largest neighbor in the solar system. The new discovery also includes one object that is just one kilometer in size, and is flying in a retrograde orbit, behaving in an entirely different way that the rest of the 78 known objects currently orbiting the gas giant. 

Researchers say the "oddball" moon may be responsible for smashing up many of the other objects that make up the system of moons in orbit around Jupiter and that many of them are likely the result of such collisions in the past. 

The tiny oddball moon will be named "Valetudo," which is the Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter. The team, led by Carnegie's Scott S. Sheppard, first spotted the unknown moons in the spring of 2017. 

"This is an unstable situation," Scott S. Sheppard told The Independent. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust. It is as if the moon is travelling the wrong way down a crowded highway."

The total number of objects currently floating around Jupiter is up to 79 now. Scientists say there might be even more, up to 100 different objects in total. 

Scientists say none of the newly discovered moons are larger than 2 miles, which explains why they had been undiscovered until now. Sheppard's team was also responsible for detecting the most-distant known orbit in our solar system in 2014 and was the first to realize that there may be a massive unknown planet hiding out in the outermost reaches of the solar system, which is sometimes referred to as "Planet X" or "Planet Nine". 

The telescopes happened to observe the new objects almost by accident, Sheppard said. 

"Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant solar system objects, so we were serendipitously able to look for new moons around Jupiter while at the same time looking for planets at the fringes of our solar system," said Sheppard.

Learning how objects in our solar system are formed and orbit around Jupiter add to our understanding of the formation of our own solar system researchers say. 

Photo: Getty Images

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