10 more moons discovered around Jupiter, one is an oddball
In a rather notable finding, astronomers have discovered 10 new moons orbiting Jupiter, bringing its total satellites to a whopping 79 - by far the most moons found orbiting any planet. Among the 10 moons discovered is an oddball which moves in the opposite direction from its neighbors, making the likelihood of a head-on collision an actual possibility. Undoubtedly, Space never ceases to amaze.
The discovery was made while hunting for Planet Nine
The astronomers, who discovered the new moons, first observed them in March last year from an observatory in Chile, while hunting for the elusive, and almost mythical Planet Nine. However, it took them more than a year to confirm that the moons were locked in orbit with Jupiter. The findings have now been submitted to the International Astronomical Union, which officially recognizes celestial bodies.
Details about the new Jovian moons
The new Jovian moons range from 1km to 3km across. Among them, seven orbit Jupiter at a considerable distance of about 20 million kilometres, while the remaining two are much closer. In terms of categorization, the two moons close to Jupiter orbit in the planet's direction (prograde), while seven of the distant ones move in the opposite direction (retrograde). Then, there's the oddball.
The oddball, Valetudo, may well be on a collision course
The oddball moon is named Valetudo after the Roman goddess of hygiene and health. It orbits Jupiter at the same distance as its other retrograde cousins, but Valetudo moves in the direction of Jupiter. Valetudo's orbit is also tilted with respect to the other retrograde Jovian moons, meaning it could easily collide with one of them. Such a collision would be visible from Earth.
Lead astronomer Scott Shepard explains Valetudo's precarious position
"It's basically driving down the highway in the wrong direction. That's a very unstable situation. Head-on collisions are likely to happen in that situation," said astronomer Scott Shepard from the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington DC, who led the effort.
The discovery might shed light on the Solar System's history
In terms of scientific value, the findings indicate that the moons weren't formed when Jupiter was formed because they would've been engulfed by the gas and dust swirling around the newly-formed planet. Instead, their existence indicates that they're leftovers of collisions between space rocks that happened after Jupiter's formation. Scientists hope that the discovery will illuminate the history of the early Solar System.