Yesterday, the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center announced the discovery of 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter bringing the total for Jovian moons to 79.
These building blocks of planets can provide a window into the early years of the solar system.
Jupiter's southern hemisphere is pictured by NASA's Juno spacecraft on the outbound leg of a close flyby of the gas-giant planet in an image released on July 2, 2018. Image credit: Carnegie Institution for Science.
Why are we just now hearing about it? So hey, why not look for some more moons? Telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and Arizona were used for the discovery and confirmation.
A few years back in 2014, this same team found an object with the most-distant orbit in the solar system.
These two groups of prograde and retrograde moons consist of "irregular" satellites, or moons whose orbits have irregular, or noncircular, shapes. Those 2017 moons were labeled S/2016 J1 and S/2017 J1.
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Our solar system's oldest and biggest planet, Jupiter, has many moons. "It's also likely Jupiter's smallest known moon, being less than one kilometer in diameter".
Researchers suggest that these moons are leftovers of collisions between space rocks that are now encircling Jupiter. Since they are still around, now, that means they formed after that gas and dust had been swept away by the solar wind. What they found were 12 new moons orbiting the planet. "It is moving prograde while all the other objects at a similar distance from Jupiter are moving retrograde". The moons orbit in three different groupings and are thought to be the remnants of three bodies that were broken apart in earlier collisions. Even though a dozen new moons is a pretty good haul, Sheppard expects that more searching will turn up even more moons. It has been nicknamed Valetudo, after the Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter.
"Our other discovery is a real oddball and has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon", Dr Sheppard explained.
The newly discovered Jupiter moons, with diameters of one to three kilometres (0.62 to 1.9 miles), required multiple observations to verify. This moon also has a prograde orbit, but its path crosses the outer retrograde moons. "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust".
It's actually going head-on into these retrograde objects. "Valetudo is like driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road", Sheppard tells Sample. What's truly weird is that this set up prone to four moon-to-moon collisions.
The "oddball" planet lies in between the inner and outer circles of moons: it orbits Jupiter in prograde and takes around a year and a half to orbit Jupiter. The astronomers are now running computer simulations to determine how the ancient moons fragmented. And now, 12 new moons of Jupiter including the weirdest one yet. "We know nothing, really, more than that". By contrast, retrograde moons were probably objects that once were wandering around the solar system and got snared by Jupiter's gravity. It's just very hard to follow those. Second place goes to the Saturn's 62 known moons. Astronomers around the world, including Sheppard, have been looking for Planet Nine ever since.
If we were to host a system-wide beauty contest among the planets and accepted natural satellites as a valid skill, Jupiter would have a pretty unfair advantage.