Scientists who were actually hunting a potential planet behind Pluto accidentally found 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter. Josh King explains:
More than 400 years after Galileo Galilei discovered the first of Jupiter’s moons, astronomers have found a dozen more — including one they’ve dubbed “oddball” — orbiting the planet. That brings the total number of Jovian moons to 79.
The team of astronomers originally wasn’t even looking for the 12 new moons. Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science says he and his colleagues had been trying to track down a giant planet they think may be lurking at the outer reaches of our solar system.
As part of that search, Sheppard was using the 4-meter Víctor Blanco Telescope in Chile in March of last year and realized that Jupiter was right near the part of the sky he wanted to search.
“So we could also search for Jupiter moons while looking for things that are well beyond Pluto,” Sheppard says.
One thing that helped was the especially large camera attached to the Blanco telescope. “[That camera] allows us to search the whole area around Jupiter in a very few images,” he says.
They quickly hit the jackpot — 12 new moons appeared in the images. As they reported Tuesday in an online notice from International Astronomical Union, all 12 have now been confirmed by other telescopes.