Jupiter now has 79 moons after 10 more have been confirmed, and according to astronomers, one of them may be on a collision course with other Jupiter moons.
Jupiter has been described as a miniature solar system by itself. The massive gas planet is mostly made up of the sun's basic ingredients of hydrogen and helium, and it is surrounded by geologically diverse moons. With the confirmation of the 10 more moons, Jupiter just got a lot more interesting.
Astronomers Discover 12 New Jupiter Moons
A team of astronomers discovered 12 new Jupiter moons in March 2017. Two of them were confirmed in June last year, and the remaining 10 have now joined them to increase Jupiter's total moons to 79.
The moons were discovered by astronomers from the Carnegie Institution for Science using the Blanco 4-meter telescope on Chile. Finding new Jupiter moons, however, was not their goal, as they were instead looking for small objects in the Solar System beyond Pluto. During their search, the astronomers decided to take a peek at Jupiter, leading to the discovery of objects that were just 1 kilometer to 4 kilometers in diameter.
The 10 remaining moons from the March 2017 discovery have now been confirmed by the International Astronomical Union, after over a year of follow-up observations to track their orbits. This was required to make sure that the moons were not actually comets or asteroids.
Valetudo: The Jupiter Moon That May Collide With Others
Of the 10 newly confirmed Jupiter moons, two of them orbit near Jupiter. They are known as prograde moons, orbiting Jupiter in the same direction as the planet spins. They are also believed to be parts of a larger moon that broke apart long ago due to a collision.
Seven of the new moons orbit further away from Jupiter and in the opposite direction. They are known as retrograde moons, which fall into three distinct groups that are also believed to be part of three larger moons that were also broken apart by collisions.
The 10th moon, named Valetudo, is different. It is far away from Jupiter like the retrograde moons but is orbiting in the opposite direction like the prograde moons.
"It's basically driving down the highway in the wrong direction," said Scott Sheppard, the astronomer who led the team that made the discoveries. "That's a very unstable situation. Head-on collisions are likely to happen in that situation."
Sheppard believes that Valetudo may be a remnant of a random object that got sucked into the gravity of Jupiter and then collided with some of the retrograde moons to create the pieces that are seen orbiting the planet.