Jupiter Now Has 69 Moons

Posted: Jun 14 2017, 7:00pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Jupiter Now has 69 Moons
Credit: NASA

Two new moons discovered around Jupiter

Astronomers have discovered two new moons around Jupiter. With that, the largest planet in our solar system now has a total of 69 moons.

Researchers have discovered these moons accidently while surveying solar system beyond the Kuiper Belt. Their aim was to find very distant objects like putative Planet X lurking in outer solar system. While Jupiter was not the focus of their attention, it was certainly lying within their range. They spotted most of the known moons around Jupiter as well as those that were previously undiscovered.

“We’re looking for objects way beyond Pluto, even for another planet. So we’re going several times a year to do this survey,” said astronomer Scott Sheppard from Carnegie Institution for Science who made the discovery. “The last two years, Jupiter’s been near where we’ve been surveying, so we just kind of took some fields around Jupiter so we could look for Jupiter moons as well as very distant objects. We came across several objects that were pretty obviously moving the same way Jupiter was.”

The new moons currently referred as S/2016 J 1 and S/2017 J 1 are very tiny. Researchers believe they must be only 1 or 2 km across. S/2016 J 1 moonlet was discovered on March 8, 2016, with the 6.5-m Magellan-Baade reflector at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, while its companion S/2017 J 1 was detected on March 23, 2017 using another Observatory in Chile.

S/2016 J 1 and S/2017 J 1 are located 20,600,000 km and 23,500,000 km away from Jupiter, respectively. It takes them 1.65 years to 2.1 years to complete an orbit around the planet. And like most of Jupiter’s moon, they also appear to be in a retrograde orbit, meaning that they move in opposite directions of Jupiter’s spin and axis.

Several moons of Jupiter have unique orbits. Their orbits are so poorly understood that no one can accurately predict where they are now, so they are considered lost moons. Almost all of the lost moon were found in 2003 but they were never observed after that.

“We likely have all of the lost moons in our new observations from 2017, but to link them back to the remaining lost 2003 objects requires more observations a year later to confirm the linkages, which will not happen until early 2018.” Sheppard explains.

“There are likely a few more new moons as well in our 2017 observations, but we need to reobserve them in 2018 to determine which of the discoveries are new and which are lost 2003 moons.”

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