Researchers discover a dozen new moons of Jupiter

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Nine of the newly discovered moons are part of an outer group that orbit in the opposite, or retrograde, direction of Jupiter's spin, taking about two years to complete one trip around the planet. As for the number of satellites that orbit Jupiter, Williams said he dreads "to think how many objects are in the hundred-meter range".

The Magellan telescope in Chile captured these recovery images of the oddball Jovian moon, known as Valetudo, in May.

"This is an unstable situation", Sheppard explained. During their survey in March 2017, the astronomers realized that Jupiter had moved into their field of view.

Artist rendering of the orbital paths around Jupiter.

All less than two miles wide, the moons are all very small which is why they have only now been identified thanks to more sensitive telescopes. The confirmation of 10 was announced on Tuesday.

But that didn't necessarily suggest they were moons - they could have been asteroids orbiting the sun. It is moving prograde will all the other objects at a similar distance from Jupiter are moving retrograde.

The oddball could be the last remaining remnant of a once-larger moon that gave rise to the retrograde retinue during previous smash-ups.

Diagram of the new moons split into different groups.

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Sheppard agrees it's problematic. "So that's why we're able to find these new moons". The first is that it's small in size, with a diameter that totals only about a kilometer.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. The first four moons were discovered by Galileo in 1610.

There are outer prograde moons, as well. "It took a year to figure out what these objects were".

A graphic released by the Carnegie Institution for Science shows the orbits of the known and newly discovered moons of Jupiter. Observations were partly obtained at CTIO, NOAO, which are operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, under contract with the NSF.

So we are still finding moons for Jupiter. This instrument has a large camera sensor, allowing Sheppard and his team to search the entire vicinity of Jupiter with just a handful of exposures.

Astronomers oftentimes have to look very, very carefully for something that they believe exists in a certain spot in space. After verification, they are being reported today by the International Astronomical Union, based in Paris. At the same time, they watched for Planet Nine or smaller, distant dwarf planets in the background. Further out, there are nine moons that are spinning in the opposite direction. 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.

SHEPPARD: They didn't form with Jupiter. That's because Valetudo, named for the Roman goddess of health and hygiene, is a true oddball. This one takes about one and a half years to orbit Jupiter, say the researchers. "It probably has collided with them over time", Sheppard said. But seriously, does something less than a mile across deserve to be called a moon? Now, all that's left is to name the new moons.

SHEPPARD: Mini-moon - yeah, that has a pretty good ring to it, too.

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