Daredevil 'oddball' among 12 newly discovered Jupiter moons

Astronomers find 12 new moons around Jupiter

Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, was hardly short of moons before the latest findings. Which direction the moons swing around the planet depends on how they were first captured by Jupiter's gravitational field. This putative planet is now sometimes popularly called Planet X or Planet Nine. University of Hawaii's Dave Tholen and Northern Arizona University's Chad Trujillo are also part of the planet search team.

The initial discovery of most of the new moons were made on the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile and operated by the National Optical Astronomical Observatory of the United States. "So, the whole process took a year".

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.

Scientists classified the findings as 11 "normal" outer moons, and another that they are calling an "oddball" for its odd orbit. But Valetudo, in addition to being the smallest discovered, orbits in prograde, or the same direction as the planet's spin. Nearly all of Jupiter's prograde moons are believed to be fragments of a larger moon that broke apart.

Having a new, bigger camera on the telescope enabled the team to cover a larger percentage of sky.

The "oddball" moon, which has been named Valetudo after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene, has an orbit that is dissimilar to any other known moon around Jupiter. Given their distance and angle from Jupiter, they are also most likely pieces of a once-larger moon. It's small - less than one kilometer in diameter - with a prograde orbit that crosses the outer retrograde moons.

Beyond these is a group known as the "prograde" moons - more tiny, irregular satellites, all of which travel around Jupiter in the same direction that the planet rotates (counter-clockwise, in the view shown below). "Essentially, it's going to be like a bug in the windshield", says Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust".

Valetudo can be seen moving relative to a steady background of distant stars in this image.

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Sheppard said the oddball moon is "likely Jupiter's smallest known moon, being less than 1 kilometer in diameter". "They also are fragments of the early solar system before the planets were formed, which makes studying them important to learning about the solar system's history".

But one of the newly discovered moons - and the strangest - offers a fresh clue.

Jupiter's tally of moons just got a little bit larger.

Using the Blanco four-metre telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile - which had been recently fitted with a new and highly sensitive instrument called the "Dark Energy Camera", which is about the size of a small vehicle - they detected objects that seemed to be moving against the background stars.

Most of the new moons were revealed by the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American, located in Chile, which was recently outfitted with a Dark Energy Camera created to locate faint objects.

All the newly identified moons are relatively small. So the researchers had to continue observations.

"This is really cool and really exciting", astronomer Jonti Horner of the University of Southern Queensland, who was not involved in the research, told ScienceAlert.

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