‘Oddball’ among 12 new moons discovered around Jupiter
18 July, 2018, 08:50 | Author: Darnell Taylor
Researchers in the U.S. stumbled upon the new moons while hunting for a mysterious ninth planet that is postulated to lurk far beyond the orbit of Neptune, the most distant planet in the solar system.
As part of that search, Sheppard was using the 4-meter Víctor Blanco Telescope in Chile in March of a year ago and realized that Jupiter was right near the part of the sky he wanted to search.
Because Jupiter moves across the sky at a known speed, anything nearby moving at the same speed in the same direction becomes a candidate for a moon - but confirmation is a time-consuming process, Sheppard explained to ScienceAlert.
Two of the new moons are part of an inner group of moons closer to Jupiter that orbit in prograde, or the same direction as the planet's rotation. "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. Until the announcement this morning by the International Astronomical Union of the discovery of an additional 10 moons about the gas-giant planet.
The researchers believe the oddball may be a leftover fragment from a larger prograde moon that split apart from repeated collisions.
This new "oddball" moon is more distant and more inclined than the prograde group of moons and takes about one and a half years to orbit Jupiter. The moons orbit in three different groupings and are thought to be the remnants of three bodies that were broken apart in earlier collisions. "What these other objects were has been a mystery".
Eleven of the twelve new moons follow these conventions, but Valetudo is the odd one out.
Two of them are pretty straightforward. The other three are prograde, which orbit in the same direction. TheyÂre calling one moon an ÂoddballÂ because of its unusual orbit.
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This illustration shows the newly discovered moons of Jupiter and their orbits.
Astronomers have proposed the name "Valetudo" for the oddball moon, after the Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter, the goddess of health and hygiene.
Nine of the new moons are in a group of more distant moons in prograde orbits. Sheppard realized a year ago that the team's search zone for a ninth planet overlapped with Jupiter's orbit. "And that's very bad, because head-on collisions are likely to happen".
This orbital arrangement means Jupiter appears as the largest disc in the sky and will be visible from sundown to sunrise.
If these raw materials had still been present when Jupiter's first moons collided to form its current clusters, the drag exerted on the smaller ones would have made them spiral inwards.
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.
Which raises the question of how long the tiny moon has left. By contrast, retrograde moons were probably objects that once were wandering around the solar system and got snared by Jupiter's gravity.
The team's results are not yet available in a peer-reviewed journal, as Sheppard's team is now running supercomputer simulations to try and figure out how often Valetudo might collide with a retrograde moon.
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