The battle for the most known moons in the Solar System is raging on. After losing its lead to Saturn in 2019, Jupiter has once again surged ahead. Astronomers have counted 12 previously unknown moons in orbit around our Solar System’s biggest planet, bringing the known total to 92, and leaving Saturn, with its measly count of 83, in the dust.
The orbits of the moons, which are unnamed, have been published in the circulars of the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, which keeps records of all the small bodies discovered in the Solar System.
Who Led These Discoveries:
The observations were led by astronomer Scott Sheppard of Carnegie Institution for Science, who has spearheaded the discoveries after accidentally discovering a plethora of previously unknown Jovian moons during a hunt for the mysterious hypothetical Planet Nine in the outer Solar System. The details and confirmation of the new moons have been published quietly by the Minor Planet Center (MPC).
The Jovian system is now a mini solar system in itself with these 92 moons. Jupiter was already the biggest planet in our solar system. The newly discovered moons are small and far out with their orbits stretching over 340 days. Meanwhile, nine of the 12 are among the 71 outermost Jovian moons, whose orbits are more than 550 days.
Sky and Telescope reported that three of the newly discovered moons are among 13 others that orbit in a prograde direction and lie between the large, close-in Galilean moons and the far-out retrograde moons.
Exploration of the Jovian Planet:
The discovery of the moons comes just a year before Nasa is preparing to send a mission to explore the jovian worlds. The Europa Clipper mission is preparing to conduct the first dedicated and detailed study of an ocean world beyond Earth. The probe will determine if this distant moon has conditions favourable for life. The expedition’s objective is to explore Europa to investigate its habitability.
The spacecraft will perform 45 flybys of Europa at closest-approach altitudes varying from 2700 kilometers to 25 kilometers above the surface. The spacecraft is not being sent to find life itself, but will instead try to answer specific questions about Europa’s ocean, ice shell, composition, and geology.