Jupiter is already considered the king of planets – it is the largest in our solar system. Now, the gas giant also has the largest number of known moons.
Astronomers have observed 12 additional moons orbiting Jupiter, bringing the total number of confirmed moons to 92.
The discovery was made during observations by astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science and his team. They used the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii in September 2021 and the Dark Energy Camera located on the Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile in August 2022. The Dark Energy Camera can search the sky for dimly lit objects.
Jupiter and its moons were aligned with more distant targets that Sheppard and his team were looking for in the Kuiper Belt, a ring of icy objects circling the sun located beyond Neptune’s orbit at the edge of the solar system.
“We’ve been searching for new moons around Jupiter by chance, while our main search is looking for planets in the outer solar system beyond Pluto,” Sheppard said.
The team could tell the difference between Jupiter and the objects around it versus the distant objects of the solar system because any objects around Jupiter would be moving at the same speed as the gas giant. Distant solar system objects cannot move as quickly as objects moving with Jupiter.
Follow-up observations of the 12 new moons took about a year to confirm, and the team used the Magellan Telescope in Chile to carry out this work.
None of the moons have names yet since their discovery was announced, but the Minor Planet Center will assign a number to each in the coming months.
The Minor Planet Center tracks the positions of minor planets, comets and space rocks. Under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union, the organization is responsible for the identification, designation and orbital data of these celestial objects.
“The International Astronomical Union allows the naming of any moon larger than 2.4 kilometers in size, half of which of these new discoveries are larger than that, so they will be named,” Sheppard said.
Search for new moons
As Jupiter is a bright planet, astronomers have had to deal with the issue of glare and scattered light affecting the space where moons can exist.
Technology is making it easier to observe Jupiter and the area around it in greater detail.
Sheppard and his team are tracking “many, many more moons around Jupiter,” but they need more observations to confirm and announce their findings.
Finding additional moons around Jupiter and determining their orbits could help identify targets for future missions. The European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, launched in April, and NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, scheduled to launch in 2024, will visit Jupiter and some of its moons this decade. And missions can pass newly discovered moons in their path.
“These outer moons can only be visited by these spacecraft when they enter Jupiter’s gravitational sphere of influence,” said Sheppard.
“The hope is that if we find enough of them, one of them will be just close to the spacecraft’s trajectory to get close-up images. These outer moons are important to understand because they are the last remnants of the population of objects that formed in the giant planet region as the rest of the material was incorporated into the planets.”
The giant planet region is where the largest planets in the solar system can be found, and it is now devoid of objects because the planets gobbled up all the material in the process of forming.
Sheppard and his team believe these moons are remnants of at least seven larger moons that broke up when they collided with other moons, asteroids or comets. The fracturing of these moons led to the creation of hundreds of smaller moons, Sheppard said.
about the moons
The moons are remnants of what was born in the disk of gas and dust around Jupiter after the planet formed and then captured and pulled most of the material into Jupiter’s orbit. These building blocks of planets could provide a window into understanding the early years of the solar system.
Sheppard’s team has a knack for finding moons around the giant planets in our solar system.
“In total, we have participated in 70 lunar discoveries around Jupiter,” he said via email. “For the other planets, there are 43 discoveries on Saturn, 2 on Uranus and 1 on Neptune”.
Saturn has 83 moons, Uranus has 27 and Neptune has 14.
The team is also tracking many additional moons around Saturn, but they are harder to spot because the ringed planet is farther from Earth.
“We believe that Uranus and Neptune also have a large number of small moons, but these planets are even more distant, so it is even more difficult to detect the smaller moons around these planets,” said Sheppard.
Source: CNN Brasil
Charles Grill is a tech-savvy writer with over 3 years of experience in the field. He writes on a variety of technology-related topics and has a strong focus on the latest advancements in the industry. He is connected with several online news websites and is currently contributing to a technology-focused platform.