Surprise! Jupiter officially has 92 moons, as 12 new moons discovered
Astronomers discovered 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter, meaning the total number of moons we know to be orbiting the gas giant now stands at 92.
Up until the new discovery, Saturn, with its 83 confirmed moons, was thought to be the planet with the most moons.
Jupiter's new moons were added to a list by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, as per a press statement.
Discovering new Jupiter moons
Astronomers first detected the new Jupiter moons in 2021 and 2022 using telescopes in Hawaii and Chile. Follow-up observations confirmed their existence.
The new moons range in size from 0.6 miles to 2 miles (1 kilometer to 3 kilometers) in diameter, according to Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution, who was part of the team that cataloged the new objects.
"I hope we can image one of these outer moons close-up in the near future to better determine their origins," Sheppard explained in the statement.
That wish may come true pretty soon. That's because the European Space Agency (ESA) aims to launch its Jupiter Icy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission in April. The mission will launch on one of the last Ariane 5 rocket launches from Kourou in French Guiana. It will send a spacecraft to orbit and explore Jupiter and its icy moons Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede.
With strong evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust, Jupiter's moon Europa could have conditions suitable for life. In 2024, our spacecraft will set off to take a closer look.— NASA Europa Clipper (@EuropaClipper) January 26, 2023
Join us: https://t.co/rORF6MHEhc pic.twitter.com/rtLmhpIrdp
The JUICE mission, which now has a few new targets to observe, will travel through space for seven years before reaching its destination.
Next year, NASA will also launch the Europa Clipper mission to explore the icy ocean moon Europa, which some scientists believe may harbor microbial life forms.
There are likely even more moons orbiting Jupiter
Sheppard, who has a long history of discovering moons in our solar system around Jupiter and Saturn, believes more moons will be found around both planets.
It is believed that many of Jupiter and Saturn's moons were formed due to collisions between larger ancient moons and asteroid collisions with the two planets. Since the formation of our solar system, Jupiter has acted as a shield of sorts for Earth. It has suffered many more asteroid collisions than Earth due to its large size and, therefore, stronger gravitational pull.
Of the 12 new moons, Sheppard explained that only half are large enough — 1 mile (1.5 km) or larger in diameter — to warrant a name. The moons have yet to be named.