Jupiter's Moon Total Hits 79

Jupiter's Moon Total Hits 79

Bringing the now known total to 79.

Several other telescopes were used to confirm the finds, including the 6.5-meter Magellan telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory, also in Chile.

The newly discovered Jupiter moons, with diameters of one to three kilometres (0.62 to 1.9 miles), required multiple observations to verify. By contrast, retrograde moons were probably objects that once were wandering around the solar system and got snared by Jupiter's gravity.

The same survey that discovered these 10 also resurveyed two other moons previously discovered by the researchers, who verified the moons' orbital paths.

Two of them are much close to Jupiter and orbit the gas giant in the same direction as the planet's rotation, and are also believed to be part of a larger moon which had broken apart.

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). Specifically, they focused on worlds one-half to 20 times Jupiter's mass at least as far away from their stars as Earth is from the sun - excluding hot Jupiters, which are Jupiter-size planets that orbit closer to their stars than Mercury does with the sun. Sheppard describes this as "an unstable situation", noting that collisions between two moons are possible due to the 12th moon's odd orbit.

Astronomers suspect that the retrograde moons may be the remains of larger moons that were destroyed in head-on collisions with prograde objects. "What these other objects were has been a mystery". Because of that small moon's orbit, it may be eventually be destined for an crash.

Two of them are pretty straightforward.

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From Jupiter's entire collection of 79 moons, Sheppard has been involved in the discovery of 54 of them, including most of the known retrograde moons. Nearly all of Jupiter's prograde moons are believed to be fragments of a larger moon that broke apart. One possibility is NASA's Europa moon mission planned in the late 2020s or early 2030s. Now, with a new announcement from a team of astronomers, led by Scott S. Sheppard from the Carnegie Institution for Science, Jupiter's tally now jumps to a total of 79 known moons.

Tentatively named Valetudo, after the Roman goddess of health and cleanliness, and great-granddaughter of Jupiter, the moon is more distant and more inclined than the group of inner prograde moons. That puts it on a possible collision course with a retrograde moon. Sheppard's team speculates Valetudo could be a remnant of a collision between one or more moons.

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.

If they had formed earlier, the influence of gas and dust would have created drag and caused them to spiral inward to the planet, lost forever. That meant the entire process took a full year.

"A full paper will likely be written after these simulations are done in a few months".

Researchers found the new moons thanks to a telescope upgrade.

"It's a lovely result, and it really does highlight the importance of keeping looking out there", Horner said.

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