Astronomers at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC recently found 12 new moons surrounding Jupiter. This means that the planet has 79 known moons, the most of any planet in our solar system. While the discovery of new moons is always exciting, this one came with an additional surprise.
Scientists weren’t exactly looking to find new moon with this discovery. Instead, they were hunting for the elusive and mysterious Planet Nine, a planet many astronomers believe to be on the very edge of our solar system. They did not find what they had set out to, but they did stumble upon 12 moon surrounding Jupiter that had never been noted before.
Modern technology has made it much easier to detect objects in space, which is why these moons probably had not been noticed before. Older telescopes could only offer a limited view of the sky at any given time, while more modern devices expand the available range of vision by up to ten times. Additionally, newer cameras and scopes are well-shaded, which mean that they can take much clearer images of Jupiter. This was once incredibly difficult because of the glare and scattered light given off by the planet itself and numerous moons.
In order to search for Planet Nine, scientists had to use the Blanco telescope located at the Cerro Tololo Inter-America Observatory in Chile. This device also possesses dark energy camera, capable of detecting faint objects. Once they had the equipment set up to suit their needs, they note that they could make detailed observation about Jupiter at the same time.
11 of the 12 planets discovered orbit in the same direction as those around them and behave as normal moons. The 12th one, however, looks as though it is driving down the wrong side of the road, putting it on a collision course with one of its nearest neighbors. This rogue moon was dubbed Valetuda, after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene, and at a kilometer across, is one of the smallest detected. Its size and its course mean that it is anticipated to collide with a nearby moon somewhere between 100 million and a billion years from now.
The most exciting part about this is that it proves that there are still incredible discoveries yet to be made about our very own solar system, in addition to those about the galaxies that exist outside of our own. Thanks to new technology, a growing number of specialists involved in the field, and better funding, the mysteries of space may soon be revealed.