Scientists have discovered twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter, bringing the total number of natural satellites circling around the king of planets to a whopping 79. The findings include 11 “normal” outer moons, and one that scientists call an “oddball.” Researchers, led by Scott S Sheppard from Carnegie Institution for Science in the US, first spotted the moons in last year while they were looking for a possible massive planet far beyond Pluto.
“Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant Solar System objects, so we were serendipitously able to look for new moons around Jupiter while at the same time looking for planets at the fringes of our Solar System,” said Sheppard.
“It takes several observations to confirm an object actually orbits around Jupiter. So, the whole process took a year,” said Gareth Williams from the International Astronomical Union.
Nine of the new moons are part of a distant outer swarm of moons that orbit it in the retrograde, or opposite direction of Jupiter’s spin rotation. These distant retrograde moons are grouped into at least three distinct orbital groupings and are thought to be the remnants of three once-larger parent bodies that broke apart during collisions with asteroids, comets, or other moons. The newly discovered retrograde moons take about two years to orbit Jupiter.