Scientists discover twelve new moons of Jupiter

Katie Ramirez
July 20, 2018

A rogue neighbor can make life unpredictable.

A look at Jupiter's new moons.

The astronomers do not know the composition of the dozen newly identified moons.

The worst-case scenario for Valetudo?

"This is an unstable situation", said Dr Scott Sheppard from the Carnegie Institution for Science team. "It's going to slap into something".

The solar system's largest planet has some "new" neighbors. And more than a third of those belong to a single planet: Jupiter. "It probably has collided with them over time", Sheppard said. The observatory is nestled high in the desert mountains of the Atacama region. Jupiter is not in the frame and is off to the upper left.

In March 2017, Jupiter was in the flawless location to be observed using the Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, which has the Dark Energy Camera and can survey the sky for faint objects. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals the intricate, detailed beauty of Jupiter's clouds as arranged into bands of different latitudes.

They would be able to tell the difference between Jupiter and the objects around it versus the distant solar system objects because any objects around Jupiter would be moving at the same rate as the gas giant.

As a whole they're not so unusual or remarkable, except, perhaps, for that rogue, Valetudo.

"It's also likely Jupiter's smallest known moon, being less than one kilometre in diameter". Next out are the four large Galilean moons - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto - that are easily visible from Earth, even with binoculars or a small telescope.

It doesn't behave like the other moons, which tend to fall into a few categories.

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The existence of so many small satellites suggests that they arose from cosmic collisions after Jupiter itself formed, more than 4 billion years ago.

As a result, head on collisions are much more likely to occur between this "oddball" prograde moon and its retrograde cousins moving in opposite directions.

Sheppard and his team already proposed a name for the rebel moon. It took one of the most powerful digital cameras in the world - the Dark Energy Camera - to spot them.

Because it travels in the complete opposite direction as the rest of the neighborhood, this tiny moon is particularly vulnerable to collisions and stands a good chance of being obliterated in the future by an impact with a retrograde moon. Nine others were detected as part of the outer retrograde moons.

In the meantime, "we have to speculate about what they [the new moons] are made of", Sheppard said.

"The most interesting find is this object we're calling Valetudo", Sheppard says.

It is possible the various orbital moon groupings we see today were formed in the distant past through this exact mechanism.

The study was published in the International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Electronic Circular.

Even better, they were found as a kind of bonus.

The view from the Chilean mountaintop taught researchers a lot, but there's more to learn.

It took the researchers over a year to confirm with multiple telescopes the discovery of Jupiter's new moons. "These moons are likely half ice and half rock". It's not clear when Valetudo will get a close-up, but it ought to be before anything goes splat.

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