Jupiter is the big deal after all

A few days back researchers told the wold that Jupiter is the oldest planet in the solar system and now we have some fresh news. In their search for a new world (Planet 9), Astronomers have been scouring the skies for unknown objects. The process is long is very painstaking.

NASA/JHU-APL/Southwest Research Institute

To detect a new solar system object, images of the same area of the sky are taking repeatedly over a period of hours, days and sometimes even months. As the stars are very far away, they don’t seem to move (the movement is just to small to consider). If you find anything else, bingo; you have a new solar system object. This technique is called blinking and has been used since the days when photographic plates were used to take simple images.

Asteroid 2014 AA Source JPL/NASA (Catalina Sky Survey)

Many times astronomers make simple calculations and predict the position of massive planets/dwarf planets in advance and telescopes are pointed towards specific areas of the night sky to find these objects. The planet Neptune was found in the same way. The rest of the time, astronomers have to spend hours after data acquisition to figure out moving objects and it can be a daunting task.

Accidental discoveries are also not uncommon in this method as any moving object is a potential solar system object. To find out if an object has been seen before and catalogued, a central database is maintained which informs Astronomers worldwide and prevents any confusion. This database is called the MPC (Minor Planet Catalogue).

The process is same for discovering asteroids, comets, dwarf planets and mainstream planets. The effort required might be a little different for each type of objects. During most of these hunts, astronomers program mechanised telescopes (including the Hubble telescope) to capture a sequence of images in desired intervals and leave their faithful machines to the job. The real task comes in analysing the data which they receive and making some sense out it.

To see how this works, I took part in some projects like these and just to confirm the orbit of the asteroid found, it takes about 6 years. A main belt asteroid (between Mars and Jupiter) takes about 2 years to complete an orbit and to confirm its orbit it has to be observed at least 3 times. Hence the long wait. Now Imagine a planet which takes 248 years to complete an orbit. Wouldn’t the wait be too long. :)

In fact, for these objects, multiple observations are made at the same time by a lot of teams and separate telescope time has to be allotted for the researchers. This means leaving all other important projects and concentrating on just one. Once an object is discovered, it is fed into the database and anyone is free to make observations and submit data to improve its orbital calculations. This is provided you have the right equipment to do it.

Terry Lovejoy with his imaging setup.

Amateur astronomers play a very important role in confirming such discoveries as most of the time it is not possible to leave on going projects for large telescopes and in a lot of cases, the telescope is not present in the geography.

Comet hunter Terry Lovejoy hunts comets from his backyard and he has found 6 comets with the help of a telescope setup which one can simply buy over the internet. He lives in an area with average dark skies. When asked how he does it, he simply says – “Patience and Persistence pays off”.

Now getting to the main topic, the news moons of Jupiter. Previously Jupiter was known to have 67 moons (the largest number in the Solar System) and now two little ones have been discovered. The discovery was made months ago and only after the researchers make sure that all data and calculations are correct, they release the data. The process also involves sharing the discovery with other partner institutions so that all glitches can be ironed out from the process.

The two new moons have not been named yet beyond the notation indicating their discovery date: S/2016 J 1 and S/2017 J 1 (S for “satellite” and J for “Jupiter”). The moons, both estimated at about 2 km in diameter, were discovered by a team led by astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science. Sheppard was actually looking for objects in the outer solar system—in the Kuiper belt and beyond—when Jupiter aligned with two telescopes the Carnegie Institution operates in the Atacama Desert of Chile. – Source Popular Mechanics. Please click HERE to visit the original article.

The two new moons of Jupiter

The naming process is governed by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). So if someone tries to sell you naming rights or just pops up a poll, don’t be fooled by it. The discovery teams does get an option to coin a name before the committee however.

When I think about Jupiter, its massive magnetic and gravitational field and the influence it has had on the evolution of the solar system, it makes me ponder if this was the unfortunate twin of Sun which could never gather enough hydrogen in the beginning to become a star.

Calculations show that Jupiter had the potential early on to become a red dwarf if it had absorbed a little more hydrogen from the solar nebula. Studies show that stars are born in a pair (binary stars) and within a million years, they either cannibalise or drift away. Could Jupiter be the twin of Sun that we have always looked for. No one knows yet, but studies like these throw light on these unanswered questions as we progress at a glacial speed towards unravelling the mysterious of the cosmos.

To know more about the discovery process and how planets and other objects are named after discovery, u may visit the links

Naming of Astronomical Objects :- https://www.iau.org/public/themes/naming/

Original announcement:- http://home.dtm.ciw.edu/users/sheppard/satellites/jup2017.html

Jupiter Moon Page:- http://home.dtm.ciw.edu/users/sheppard/satellites/

Rishabh Jain

I am an Amateur Astronomer with keen interest in Astrophotography and Visual observations.I have experience in science communication and secondary school education in Astronomy. I have reached over 25,000 students which doing the same. I target making education reachable to the masses through the understanding of social and anthropological structures. My interests include long distance travelling, enjoying music and writing poetry.

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