Jupiter has a dozen new moons, including one 'oddball'

One moon is located in the outer group but orbits in the opposite direction. The discovery is thanks to a team led by Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science who first noticed the moons in Spring 2017. Those retrograde moons are then further grouped into three distinct sections. It crosses the orbits of other moons, and that's where things might get dicey.

"This moon is going down the highway the wrong way", Sheppard said. It has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon. It's only about one kilometer in diameter, by far the smallest of the newly discovered moons.

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 team also discovered one particularly odd moon in the new batch.

"Two of the new discoveries are part of a closer, inner group of moons that orbit in the prograde, or same direction as the planet's rotation", they added. They are thought to be the remnants of larger parent bodies that broke apart as a result of a collision with other bodies like asteroids, comets or other moons.

This twelfth moon has a wide, 1.5-Earth-year orbit around Jupiter and travels among the retrograde moons. One of the moons, Valetudo (between orange markers), can be seen in these images. Not yet, anyway. "Right now the only definition of a moon is something that orbits the planet", Sheppard said, as long as it isn't human-made.

It takes around 18 months to orbit Jupiter, and its orbit passes that of the retrograde moons, which makes collisions pretty likely.

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Two previously undetected moons were found closer in, part of a group that orbits in the same "prograde" direction as Jupiter's rotation. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust".

This moon, now called Valetudo, moves in a prograde motion, though it is slightly inclined compared to the orbits of the other moons. The researchers proposed naming the unique find Valetudo after the Roman god Jupiter's great-grandaughter. After their observations and more than a year of follow-ups and confirmations, they announced this week that they found 12 new moons.

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 vehicle - they detected objects that seemed to be moving against the background stars.

Finding a moon that tiny, he noted, means it must have formed after all the gas and dust had cleared.

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. We already have a classification for dwarf planets. The telescope recently was upgraded with the Dark Energy Camera, making it a powerful tool for surveying the night sky for faint objects. This new moon, called Valetudo, is a bit of a renegade. That puts them in the category known as retrograde moons.

The orbits of the 9 newly discovered retrograde moons of Jupiter are shown here. This proved to be quite helpful, as the unknown moons around Jupiter are small and dim.

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