Astronomers accidentally discovered 12 more moons of Jupiter, including an 'oddball'

The discovery means Jupiter, the oldest and largest planet in the solar system, has more moons than any of the other seven.

That's Scott Sheppard. He's an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science who spends his time searching for new objects in our solar system.

A new bumper haul of moons has been discovered by accident around Jupiter, with one of them described as an "oddball".

They first spotted the 12 new moons in the spring of 2017, but they had to conduct several more observations before they could confirm that the moons actually orbited Jupiter, according to Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.

Each new moon takes about two years to circle the planet.

The study suspects that Valetudo is the final remnant of a once much larger moon that has been ground to dust by collisions in the past. And after follow-up observations, they've confirmed that Jupiter has even more moons than we thought. The retrograde set of moons take about two years to complete a lap around Jupiter, and the prograde ones take under a year.

Jupiter's moons range in size from shrimpy satellites to whopping space hulks.

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Sheppard and his team have already suggested a moniker for the oddball moon: Valetudo, the mythological great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter and the goddess of health and hygiene. It's believed that numerous tiny moons around Jupiter were once much larger, having broken up over time due to the stress of gravity or perhaps even collisions with each other, resulting in the smaller objects we see today. When these moons were visible, Jupiter was very close to our own bright moon, so great care was needed to ensure that the images didn't saturate from overexposure.

Nine of the newly discovered moons have retrograde orbits, meaning that they orbit in the opposite direction of the planet's spin. "Most of the small objects that helped build the planets we see today were incorporated into the planets themselves, and these moons are all that remains", Sheppard wrote.

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). This hypothetical large prograde moon may also have formed some retrograde moon groupings.

Aside from the hulking Galilean moons that stretch thousands of miles in diameter, most of Jupiter's moons, including the new twelve, are between a mile and a few tens of miles across.

Famed astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered the first four moons of Jupiter way back in the early 1600s. These moons orbit Jupiter in the opposite direction. 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. They take a little less than a year to orbit the gas giant.

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

But what's particularly wild about these newly discovered Jovian moons is that researchers weren't even looking for them. Two of them go round in a prograde motion, in the same direction to Jupiter's spin.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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