And more than a third of those belong to a single planet: Jupiter. For greater detail, a spacecraft is needed.
Telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and Arizona were used for the original discovery and year-long confirmation of the moons. They realized they could observe Jupiter at the same time.
"It's like driving in a vehicle and looking out the window, with highway signs flying by and a mountain in the background moving slowly", Sheppard explained.
Jupiter as seen from Hubble. If these raw materials had still been present when Jupiter's first generation of moons collided to form its current clustered groupings of moons, the drag exerted by any remaining gas and dust on the smaller moons would have been sufficient to cause them to spiral inwards toward Jupiter. "New cameras allow us to cover the whole space around Jupiter in a few images, and this camera is well-shaded", Sheppard said.
These distant "retrograde" moons are thought to be the remnants of three once-larger bodies that broke apart during collisions with asteroids, comets, or other moons. The moons closer to Jupiter, including the four Galilean satellites, orbit Jupiter in the same direction as the planet's rotation - astronomers call this a prograde orbit. But they realized in March past year that Jupiter would pass through the part of the night sky they wanted to search.
The unfortunate reality of this moon, however, is its eventual demise, due to its irregular orbit.
It has a prograde orbit but is more distant and at a different incline.
This creates a situation where prograde and retrograde moons are likely to have head-on collisions. Those moons are also believed to be remnants of a larger moon that was smashed to pieces.
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Jupiter got 12 new moons on Tuesday, July 17.
The researchers believe the oddball may be a leftover fragment from a larger prograde moon that split apart from repeated collisions. The hope is that these moons help us better understand the early days of our solar system, so we'll keep our fingers crossed for some interesting discoveries as they're researched further.
"This just shows how chaotic our solar system was in the past".
This discovery, however, was not meant to happen as the team of scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science, led by Scott Sheppard, was searching for space objects beyond Pluto's orbit. It could be as much as 15 times the size of Earth. This putative planet is now sometimes popularly called Planet X or Planet Nine. "These moons are likely half ice and half rock".
It has such a unique orbit it is at risk of smashing into the others - causing a cosmic collision that will grind them to dust.
So why is this confirmation so hard? These astronomers said that, while the new observations were exciting, they needed to confirmed them.
Here's a number in the news - 79.
"It's like driving a auto on the wrong side of the highway", Sheppard said in a statement.
During its full opposition the planet was brightest in Britain on May between 9:30pm and 4:30am BST while in the USA it peaked on May 9 between 1:10am and 6:20am ET.