A dozen new moons of Jupiter discovered, including one 'oddball'


Astronomers looking for stuff in the outer Solar System have received a huge and unexpected surprise - the accidental discovery of 12 previously unknown moons in orbit around Jupiter.

The team, led by astronomer Scott S. Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science, was actually using ground-based telescopes to look for evidence of the mysterious Planet Nine, a proposed outer Solar System body.

In 2014, this same team found the object with the most-distant known orbit in our Solar System and was the first to realize that an unknown massive planet at the fringes of our Solar System, far beyond Pluto, could explain the similarity of the orbits of several small extremely distant objects.

A dozen new moons orbiting Jupiter have been discovered by astronomers... by mistake.

Gareth Williams, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and director at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, predicted that "there aren't any bigger objects undiscovered out there" around Jupiter.

"So, the whole process took a year", Williams, who calculated the orbits of the new moons, said in a statement.

The orbits of the twelve newly discovered moons of Jupiter are shown here in bold.

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This oddball takes about a year and a half to circle Jupiter, and orbits at an inclined angle that crosses paths with a swarm of moons traveling in a retrograde, or in the opposite direction of Jupiter s spin rotation.

Before Sheppard's team conducted their survey, there were 69 known Jovian moons, but there's always been reason to believe there are quite a few more. Like the others, they, too, are thought to be fragments of a larger moon that slammed into something else.

Two new moons are closer in, go the right way, and take about an Earth year for one orbit.

Jupiter, it's safe to say, is one of the marvels of our solar system. These regular satellites consist of an inner group of four moons that orbit very closely to the planet and a main group of four Galilean moons that are Jupiter's largest moons. The astronomers detected them by using a powerful telescope in Chile that was created to detect faint objects in space. It's also probably the smallest moon that Jupiter has, according to Sheppard.

Nine of the new moons are found among outer concentrations of moons orbiting Jupiter in retrograde - in the opposite direction of the gas giant's axis rotation.

Such collisions would have been very common earlier in Jupiter's history, when most of the moons were still forming from the gas and dust surrounding the young planet. They are also part of a larger group of small moons thought to be the left-over remnants of a once larger moon.

The moons Sheppard spied are farther-flung and tiny, each no more than two miles in diameter. Galileo discovered the first four of Jupiter's moons, all huge, in 1610. Valetudo is the name of Jupiter's great-granddaughter and a Roman goddess of health and hygiene, so it fits the bill. That puts them in the category known as retrograde moons. We're not just talking about one or two stragglers, either. After a year-study, they have now confirmed that the bodies were locked in orbit around the gas giant.