During a quest to find Planet Nine, a mysterious planet believed to be on the edge of our solar system, astronomers discovered something else: 12 new moons around Jupiter. After verification, they are being reported today by the International Astronomical Union, based in Paris.
"Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant solar system objects, " Sheppard said, according to a Carnegie Institution news release.
Using the Blanco four-metre telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile - which had been recently fitted with a new and highly sensitive instrument called the "Dark Energy Camera", which is about the size of a small auto - they detected objects that seemed to be moving against the background stars. "It's also likely Jupiter's smallest known moon, being less than one kilometer in diameter".
The so-called "oddball" has such a unique orbit that it is at risk of smashing into the other moons - a cosmic collision that could risk wiping the space rocks out.
The oddball moon, along with two other new moon discoveries, orbit in the prograde, or same direction as the planet's rotation. The satellite, named for Jupiter's great-granddaughter, could be a bit of unfinished business, the last remnant of the ancient moons that provided the grist for the retrograde cluster, the team theorizes.
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This means, unlike those closer to Jupiter, it crosses the outer retrograde moons. They then used telescopes in Chile, Arizona, and Hawaii to confirm the existence of the moons and their orbits around Jupiter, a process that required many follow-up observations over the past year.
Astronomers spotted the new moons while looking for a possible massive planet beyond Pluto.
A greater number of irregular moons because it tells us about a time during Jupiter's formation when the planet was still growing.
The remaining two satellites others are among a closer, inner group that orbit in the prograde, or same direction. The solar system's ocean worlds might be the most promising place to look. If you said 69, you were right. If the collisions had happened earlier, the moons would likely have interacted with dust and gas leftover from forming Jupiter and been dragged into the planet. Maybe 100 or more of the really small ones.
Due to their sizes - just 0.6 to 1.9 miles (1 to 3km) in diameter - these moons are more influenced by surrounding gas and dust. The Galilean moons - Ganymede, Io, Callisto and Europa - are the largest and can be seen from Earth using binoculars. Nine others orbit with Jupiter's outer retrograde moons in the opposite direction. Because of that small moon's orbit, it may be eventually be destined for an crash.
As a result, head-on collisions are much more likely to occur between the "oddball" prograde and the retrograde moons, which are moving in opposite directions. Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science says he and his colleagues had been trying to track down a giant planet they think may be lurking at the outer reaches of our solar system. In the meantime, they're waiting for the IAU to formally accept "Valetudo" as the name for the oddball moon.