Jupiter already had the most moons in the Solar System, but now scientists have discovered twelve new ones bringing the total up to 79. Of the 12, 11 moons are "normal" outer moons, and one "oddball" moon. "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. For greater detail, a spacecraft is needed.
Using the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile, with its highly-sensitive Dark Energy Camera, however, gave the team a distinct advantage. "It probably has collided with them over time".
"It's like driving in a auto and looking out the window, with highway signs flying by and a mountain in the background moving slowly", Sheppard explained. The largest Galilean moon, Ganymede, is bigger than the planet Mercury.
The solar system's largest planet has some "new" neighbors. So hey, why not look for some more moons?
"This is an unstable situation", Sheppard said.
It took the researchers over a year to confirm with multiple telescopes the discovery of Jupiter's new moons. Seven of them travel in remote orbits more than 20 million kilometers away from Jupiter, and in the opposite direction from the planet's rotation.
The inner moons take about a year to circle Jupiter, while the outer moons take twice as long.
Nine of the new moons are in a group of more distant moons in prograde orbits. But astronomers can't wait a year to make the follow-up observations, because the objects become lost or hard to properly associate with the same object, so it's necessary to track the candidate moons multiple times over the course of a year.
But the "oddball" moon has really excited the astronomers. They are thought to be the remnants of larger parent bodies that broke apart as a result of a collision with other bodies like asteroids, comets or other moons. It has been nicknamed Valetudo, after the Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter. What's more, those orbits intersect.
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Nine of the new moons are in the retrograde group, a distant bunch of moons that rotate in the opposite direction of Juipter. Over the course of a billion years, it may even cease to exist.
The team of astronomers originally wasn't even looking for the 12 new moons.
Until now, there were only four known prograde moons orbiting Jupiter. The confirmation of 10 was announced on Tuesday.
These building blocks of planets can provide a window into the early years of the solar system.
"No surprise to me that it is hoarding more moons", she said of Jupiter, adding that "studying the dynamical history of such objects can tell us a lot about solar system formation."With a diameter of less than one kilometer, Valetudo is believed to be Jupiter's smallest moon".
When you're scanning space for a distant planet, that's potentially lurking at the far edges of our solar system, it certainly pays off to keep an eye on what's going on a little closer to home! But Valetudo, in addition to being the smallest discovered, orbits in prograde, or the same direction as the planet's spin. The thought is Valetudo is all that's left of a much larger moon that smacked into one of these retrograde moons, busting the larger moon to pieces.
So why is this confirmation so hard? "The only thing that we know at the moment are the orbits and the approximate size", Williams said. Astronomers around the world, including Sheppard, have been looking for Planet Nine ever since.
Jupiter, it's safe to say, is one of the marvels of our solar system.