Astronomers Find a Staggering 12 New Moons Orbiting Jupiter

The orbits of Jupiter's moons

Nine of the newly discovered moons have retrograde orbits, meaning that they orbit in the opposite direction of the planet's spin.

The researchers believe the oddball may be a leftover fragment from a larger prograde moon that split apart from repeated collisions.

These new moons probably formed in a place in our solar system known as the giant planet region, which is between the asteroid belt, dominated by rocky asteroids, and the Kuiper belt, dominated by icy comets.

There are almost 200 moons in our solar system.

When you're scanning space for a distant planet, that's potentially lurking at the far edges of our solar system, it certainly pays off to keep an eye on what's going on a little closer to home!

How many moons does Jupiter have? And if that's not enough astronomers recently discovered 12 new ones to add to the list. 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 moons, pictured as circles above, were discovered past year by a team of astronomers.

Explorers looking for a planet and discovered several celestial bodies. It's in an orbit that takes it directly through the cluster of retrograde moons. Because of that small moon's orbit, it may be eventually be destined for an crash.

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Nine of the 10 new moons orbit in a retrograde direction, that is, opposite direction of Jupiter's spin.

Eleven of the new moons join existing groups of Jovian satellites, but one of Jupiter's new moons follows a unique, odd path.

And each moon stays in its respective lane. Astronomers believe that prograde moons form around a planet from the same cloud of dust and gas, which is why they tend to have closer orbits and matching rotation. But it's not part of the same group. That puts them in the category known as retrograde moons.

"It's like driving in a vehicle and looking out the window, with highway signs flying by and a mountain in the background moving slowly", Sheppard explained. "This is an unstable situation", Sheppard noted.

Jupiter has been found to have a dozen more moons orbiting it and they have been idenrified for the first time.

The team also discovered one particularly odd moon in the new batch. It affects the ocean's tides and, more importantly, also helps us understand how to eat a Jaffa Cake. "Maybe there will have to be a new definition for the smaller moons". Saturn's rings, for example, are thought to consist of particles that range in size from a sand grain to a house - too small for spotting and tracking individual particles. It took one of the most powerful digital cameras in the world - the Dark Energy Camera - to spot them.

SHEPPARD: Maybe there would have to be something - new definition of small - for the small moons. Eventually it'll be up to the discoverers to propose formal names to the IAU. Many of Jupiter's outer moons were likely formed by collisions between larger retrograde moons and oddball prograde satellites. One possibility is NASA's Europa moon mission planned in the late 2020s or early 2030s.

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