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Astronomers Serendipitously Discover 12 Moons Around Jupiter

More than 400 years after Galileo Galilei discovered the first of Jupiter's moons, astronomers have found a dozen more - including one they've dubbed "oddball" - orbiting the planet.

"Valetudo is like driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road", said Sheppard.

The chance find brings the gas giant's tally of moons to 79 - 17 more than Saturn, the planet with the second most orbiting moons in the solar system.

The orbit of a dozen previously unknown moons around Jupiter are shown here, including the "oddball" discovery, Valetudo.

Scientists were looking for objects on the fringes of the solar system past year when they pointed their telescopes close to Jupiter's backyard, according to Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington.

The researchers confirmed two new moons among the inner prograde moons.

It's easy to understand why these 12 new additions had been missed so far.

In March 2017, Jupiter was in the ideal location to be observed using the Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, which has the Dark Energy Camera and can survey the sky for faint objects.

Sheppard, who led the team, said Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where they were looking for extremely distant solar system objects so they were serendipitously able to look for new moons around Jupiter at the same time.

Sheppard did not set out to detect new moons. Nine of them, found in the most distant orbits of Jupiter, are in three distinct groups, taking around two Earth years to orbit Jupiter.




"It's also likely Jupiter's smallest known moon, being less than one kilometre in diameter".

All of the moons orbit much further out than the Galilean moons you may have heard of: Europa, Ganymede, Io and Callisto.

Scientists classified the findings as 11 "normal" outer moons, and another that they are calling an "oddball" for its odd orbit. Sheppard believes it could be Jupiter's smallest, and it has an orbit unlike any other moon around the planet.

It has a prograde orbit but is more distant and at a different incline. Nine others orbit with Jupiter's outer retrograde moons in the opposite direction.

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. These moons orbit in a clockwise direction, in the view above.

Once they finish running and analyzing the simulations, the team plans to publish the results in early 2019.

"Our other discovery is a real oddball and has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon", Sheppard explained.

It has an angled prograde orbit that takes about a year and a half to complete. While the retrograde moons orbit in a clockwise direction, Valetudo travels in a counter-clockwise direction. The "oddball" with the proposed name Valetudo orbits in the prograde, but crosses the orbits of the planet's outer retrograde moons. "Essentially, it's going to be like a bug in the windshield", says Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust".

They are thought to be the remnants of three once larger moons that broke apart during collisions with asteroids, comets or other moons.

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