Published: Wed, July 18, 2018
Research | By Derrick Holloway

One 'Oddball' Among 12 Newfound Moons Discovered Orbiting Jupiter

One 'Oddball' Among 12 Newfound Moons Discovered Orbiting Jupiter

"This is an unstable situation", said Sheppard. 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.

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.

The researchers were searching for the proposed "Planet X" or "Planet 9", which astronomers believe exists and could account for the way distant objects orbit in a similar manner.

Nine of the newly discovered moons have retrograde orbits, meaning that they orbit in the opposite direction of the planet's spin. It takes them about two Earth years to orbit the planet.

Using the 4-meter Víctor Blanco Telescope in Chile, the team really hit the moon jackpot. The "oddball" moon, known as Valetudo, can be seen in green in a prograde orbit that crosses over the retrograde orbits.

This interest in finding new moons around Jupiter wasn't just a spur of the moment decision for Sheppard.

But that didn't necessarily suggest they were moons - they could have been asteroids orbiting the sun.

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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.

Two of the new moons are found closer to Jupiter, orbiting the gas giant in prograde - in the same direction as Jupiter's spin.

Valetudo, as the team calls this oddball moon, is named after the Roman goddess of health, cleanliness and hygiene.

Astrophysicists believe that these small moons, which are clustered in three bands, are the remnants of three massive moons which were broken apart by collisions with other bodies in space.

And he thinks Jupiter might have even more moons just as small waiting to be found. It has a prograde orbit at a distance where the rest of Jupiter's moons have retrograde orbits.

Valetudo is in Jupiter's distant, outer swarm of moons that circles in the opposite direction of the planet's rotation.

Also, if the moons had formed earlier, there likely would have been more crashes, the team explained.

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"This moon is going down the highway the wrong way", Sheppard said.

The oddball moon, along with two other new moon discoveries, orbit in the prograde, or same direction as the planet's rotation.

The newfound moons are small, between about 1 and 3 kilometers across.

Scientists were looking for objects on the fringes of the solar system past year when they pointed their telescopes close to Jupiter's backyard, according to Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington.

Once they finish running and analyzing the simulations, the team plans to publish the results in early 2019. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust".

"Our other discovery is a real oddball and has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon", said Scott Sheppard, lead scientist on the project and a staff scientist at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, D. C. Since they are still around, now, that means they formed after that gas and dust had been swept away by the solar wind.

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