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Jupiter's Moon Total Hits 79

19 July 2018

Astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science and his team were using the telescope to search the edge of the solar system for signs of Planet Nine. They had set their sights on the outer solar system and were looking for more evidence of the elusive Planet Nine, a predicted but as yet unobserved large outer solar system planet.

The new Jovian moons range from 1km to 3km across. The fresh haul of natural satellites brings the total number of Jovian moons to 79, more than are known to circle any other planet in our cosmic neighbourhood.

But he said he expects astronomers will discover more tiny moons in the coming decades.

The final discovery is classified as an "oddball" as it has an orbit unlike any other Jovian moon. It's only about one kilometer in diameter, by far the smallest of the newly discovered moons. While the team did discover 12 new moons, two were announced previous year. The find pushes Jupiter's total moon count to 79, the most of any planet in our solar system.

Astrophysicists believe that these small moons, which are clustered in three bands, are the remnants of three massive moons which were broken apart by collisions with other bodies in space. The 12th moon, however, is described as "a real oddball", because of its unique orbit and because it is also probably Jupiter's smallest known moon, at less than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) in diameter, Sheppard said in the statement.

They take about two years to orbit Jupiter.

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They were first spotted a year ago by a team of astronomers originally on the hunt for the elusive Planet Nine, a hypothetical body speculated to exist beyond Neptune.

So, unlike the closer-in prograde group of moons, this prograde moon has an orbit that crosses the outer retrograde moons. Nine of them have retrograde orbits, going in the opposite direction to Jupiter's spin.

"These moons are the last remnants of the building blocks of the giant planets as all other material in the giant planet region likely fell into the planets to help form them", Sheppard said.

A head-on collision between two moons would "grind the objects down to dust", he added. "By looking at these outer moons", he said, "we can get an insight into what the objects were like that ended up forming the planets we see today".

"These two newly discovered moons take a little less than a year to travel around Jupiter". They named it Valetudo, after a daughter of Jupiter and the Roman goddess of hygiene and personal health.

The team first observed the new moons in 2017 with the 4-meter Blanco telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Followup observations were conducted from four other telescopes, in Chile, Arizona and Hawaii, to confirm the finds.

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Elucidating the complex influences that shaped a moon's orbital history can teach scientists about our Solar System's early years.

Jupiter has several different types of moons.

While the planet was visible to the naked eye during its peak opposition on May 8, for the next few weeks star-gazers should be able to spot it through binoculars or a telescope.

It also shows that, while we continue to gaze out into the universe for new discoveries, we are certainly not done discovering new objects, in our very own "backyard". The telescope recently was upgraded with the Dark Energy Camera, making it a powerful tool for surveying the night sky for faint objects.

It will appear as the fourth brightest object in the sky behind the moon, Mars and Venus. A team of astronomers is reporting the discovery of a dozen new moons circling the giant gas planet.

Also, if the moons had formed earlier, there likely would have been more crashes, the team explained.

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The moons are small, ranging from just one kilometre to three kilometres in width. Since they are still around, now, that means they formed after that gas and dust had been swept away by the solar wind.

Jupiter's Moon Total Hits 79