The Hunt for 'Planet Nine' Discovers 12 New Moons Around Jupiter

17 July, 2018, 21:22 | Author: Darnell Taylor

Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, was hardly short of moons before the latest findings.

The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research.

As a result, head-on collisions are much more likely to occur between the "oddball" prograde and the retrograde moons, which are moving in opposite directions.

Team leader Dr Scott Sheppard said: 'It's a real oddball.

This moon, now called Valetudo, moves in a prograde motion, though it is slightly inclined compared to the orbits of the other moons.

"It takes several observations to confirm an object actually orbits around Jupiter", Williams said. Given the moons' stable orbits and kilometer-scale sizes, the collisions were likely chance events later in the solar system's history.

Nine of the newly discovered moons have retrograde orbits, meaning that they orbit in the opposite direction of the planet's spin. They had set their sights on the outer solar system and were looking for more evidence of the elusive Planet Nine, a predicted but as yet unobserved large outer solar system planet. Of the twelve, only three moons orbit in a prograde direction, and are closer to Jupiter.

They are also believed to be fragments of a larger moon that was broken apart and take just under a year to circle Jupiter. If these raw materials had still been present when Jupiter's first generation of moons collided to form its current clustered groupings of moons, the drag exerted by any remaining gas and dust on the smaller moons would have been sufficient to cause them to spiral inwards toward Jupiter.

The team also discovered one particularly odd moon in the new batch. It's small - less than one kilometer in diameter - with a prograde orbit that crosses the outer retrograde moons.

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The other nine moons, grouped in clusters of three, have retrograde orbits. Even though a dozen new moons is a pretty good haul, Sheppard expects that more searching will turn up even more moons. Such a collision would quickly break apart and grind the object down to dust, Sheppard said.

It is possible the various orbital moon groupings we see today were formed in the distant past through this exact mechanism. This is not unusual - in fact, most of Jupiter's known moons are retrograde, and are thought to be asteroids or comets originally formed near the gas giant and captured when they got too close.

Sheppard and his colleagues have proposed naming the oddball moon Valetudo, after a minor goddess and great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter. While the team did discover 12 new moons, two were announced past year.

They were using a more powerful telescope than ever before, allowing the team to peer in at higher resolutions, across a wider field of view than other observations in the past.

The moons had not been spotted before because they are tiny.

While the planet was visible to the naked eye during its peak opposition on May 8, for the next few weeks star-gazers should be able to spot it through binoculars or a telescope.

It will appear as the fourth brightest object in the sky behind the moon, Mars and Venus.

They all turned out to be moons of Jupiter. Sheppard thinks it may be all that's left of a larger moon that crashed into one or more of the retrograde moons sometime in the past.

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