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Published: Sat, July 21, 2018
Research | By Jennifer Evans

Jupiter has 12 more moons, scientists found while looking for Planet X

Jupiter has 12 more moons, scientists found while looking for Planet X

Along with two found through the same research project but announced in June 2017, this brings the roster of Jupiter's known natural satellites to 79. Sheppard expects there could be even more small moons lurking out there.

It has an angled prograde orbit that takes about a year and a half to complete. The moons were accidentally discovered while looking for massive planets beyond Pluto.

PALCA: And they found 12 new moons.

Astronomers have discovered dozen new moons encircling the Jupiter that will inevitably lead to the planet violent destruction, as they are "driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road".

The number of known objects orbiting Jupiter is now 79, the most of any planet in the solar system. 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. "So that's why we're able to find these new moons".

"We had to observe the new candidate Jupiter moons again a month later and again a year later to confirm they were actually orbiting Jupiter and thus were moons of Jupiter", he said. The astronomers detected them by using a powerful telescope in Chile that was created to detect faint objects in space.

The most interesting of the new moons is Valetudo (pronounced val-eh-TOO-doh), named after the ancient Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter, the goddess of health and hygiene.

The remaining moon is less than a kilometer across, further out than the two conventional moons and has a 1.5-year orbit-and the orbit is inclined. They exist in retrograde - going the opposite direction of Jupiter's spin rotation.

It behaves slightly differently to the 11 other moons - so much so, in fact, that experts reckon it might be responsible for having smashed up some of the other floating objects that form the moons orbiting Jupiter.

Jupiter's moons are arranged in a specific pattern that the giant planet has worked out over time.

The moons Sheppard spied are farther-flung and tiny, each no more than two miles in diameter.

They are thought to be the remnants of three once larger moons that broke apart during collisions with asteroids, comets or other moons. As such, the orbit crosses those of the outer retrograde moons, raising the possibility of a possible head-on collision at some point in the future.

Valetudo is in Jupiter's distant, outer swarm of moons that circles in the opposite direction of the planet's rotation.

Researchers in the USA were on the hunt for a proposed ninth planet that is thought to exist far beyond the orbit of Neptune and Pluto, the two most distant celestial bodies in our solar system. That's a lot of moons.

According to Horner, if Valetudo had formed early on, it would have been slowed by the gas and dust present at the formation of Jupiter, and fallen into the planet.

They quickly hit the jackpot - 12 new moons appeared in the images. That is not surprising, because these moons likely formed out of a disk of dust and gas that was spinning in the same direction as the planet as the solar system took form.

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

"What's really cool for me here is what they're calling their oddball", Horner told ScienceAlert.

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