Jupiter's moon count reaches 79, including tiny 'oddball'

12 new moons spotted around Jupiter – but one may destroy them all

In an interesting new solar discovery, 12 new moons - 11 "normal" outer moons, and one being called an oddball', have been found orbiting Jupiter.

Sheppard described the 12th new moon as an "oddball" with "an orbit like no other known Jovian moon".

Just when we thought we had a pretty solid understanding of the celestial objects within our very own solar system, astronomers made a stunning discovery of a dozen new moons orbiting the massive planet of Jupiter.

The main task of Dr. Sheppard's team is searching for Planet Nine, a hypothesized planet far beyond Neptune that appears to be jostling objects at the edge of the solar system. With a total of 79 moons, Jupiter is now the most lunar-rich planet in the solar system. It took them a year to confirm the existence of the new moons around Jupiter.

A graphic released by the Carnegie Institution for Science shows the orbits of the known and newly discovered moons of Jupiter.

Nine of them are part of a distant outer swarm of moons that orbit in the opposite direction of Jupiter's spin rotation; two are much closer to Jupiter and orbit in the same direction as the planet. Two of the 12, on the other hand, are found in a closer group that orbits Jupiter in prograde, which is the same direction of the planet's rotation. Sheppard's girlfriend came up with a name for it: Valetudo, the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter, and the goddess of health and hygiene.

Sheppard said the oddball moon is "likely Jupiter's smallest known moon, being less than 1 kilometer in diameter". "Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust". In this case, determining that there are still several small moons surrounding Jupiter suggests that they were actually created after the planets were formed.

Using the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American in Chile, with its highly-sensitive Dark Energy Camera, however, gave the team a distinct advantage. Telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and Arizona were used for the discovery and confirmation.

But why are scientists just now finding these moons? Valetudo is also one of Jupiter's smallest moon, at less than a kilometre in diameter.

"It's like driving a vehicle on the wrong side of the highway", Sheppard said in a statement. And these new moons point to a violent and destructive past. Because they formed between the two belts, the moons are probably composed of rock and ice. Because of that small moon's orbit, it may be eventually be destined for an crash.

The researchers were hunting for a mysterious ninth planet when they stumbled upon the new moons.

These building blocks of planets can provide a window into the early years of the solar system. What's truly freaky is that this set up prone to four moon-to-moon collisions.

While the hunt for this planet continues, this major moon haul could help piece together more parts of the jigsaw that is the history of the solar system's earliest years, as elucidating the complex influences that shaped a moon's orbital history can help reveal this.

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