Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, now holds the title for having the most moons. The Minor Planet Center has recently published the orbits of 12 previously undiscovered moons of Jupiter, bringing the total to 92 and surpassing Saturn's 83.
First observed between 2021 and 2022 by telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, Jupiter's new moons were only recently confirmed as such. They are all very small, with a diameter ranging from 1 to 3 kilometers. Experts hope that in the future, it will be possible to observe at least one of them up close in order to better determine their origin, as astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution, who has discovered 70 moons of Jupiter including the last 12, stated.
If Jupiter and Saturn have dozens of small natural satellites, it is because larger moons have shattered due to collisions with comets or asteroids, Sheppard said. The same goes for Uranus, which has 27 moons, and Neptune, which has 14. However, these two planets are so far away that it is currently difficult to identify any smaller moons. We know that Mars has only two moons, and Earth has one, while Venus and Mercury have none. The 12 new moons of Jupiter are all quite distant from the planet, taking over 340 Earth days to orbit around the giant, and for the two farthest moons, this time increases to 550 days. The first mission to gather data on the new moons will likely be Juice (Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer), which the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch in April. A second mission to Jupiter, Europa Clipper, by NASA is scheduled for 2024.