Astronomers discover 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter

The discovery provides insight into why the Jupiter system looks the way it does.

Astronomers have uncovered ten more moons orbiting around Jupiter, bringing the planet’s total satellite count to 79, reports Loren Grush for The Verge. Astronomers at Carnegie Institution for Science found these moons in March 2017 using the Blanco 4-meter telescope in Chile. Since the discovery, the moons have been observed multiple times and their exact orbits have been submitted for approval from the International Astronomical Union.

The moons are fairly small and break down into three different types. Two orbit closer to Jupiter, moving in the same direction the planet spins. Nine are about 15.5 million miles from the planet and revolve in the opposite direction, moving against Jupiter’s rotation. In this region, one of the moon’s that astronomer’s call Valetudo is moving with Jupiter’s spin, going in the opposite direction of all the other moons in the same area. “It’s basically driving down the highway in the wrong direction,” Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at Carnegie who led the discovery team, told The Verge. “That’s a very unstable situation. Head-on collisions are likely to happen in that situation.”

With this discovery, scientists believe it’s evidence that moon-on-moon collisions have happened in Jupiter’s past. Astronomers argue that the nine moons moving in the same direction far out from Jupiter, may actually be pieces of a bigger moon that existed long ago. Sheppard agrees, explaining “[w]e think, originally, there were three parent bodies, and, somehow, each of those parent bodies got broken apart. And a big question is: what broke those objects apart?” Valetudo provides a plausible explanation: with it going in opposition to other moons in the area, numerous head-on collisions likely occurred, reducing these celestial bodies to the small sizes observed today.

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