Jupiter is named for the king of the gods of ancient Rome. The planet earned the name because it’s one of the brightest objects in the night sky, and because it moves across the sky at a regal pace.
And today, we know just how appropriate the name is. Jupiter is the largest and heaviest of all the planets — more massive than all the other planets put together. And it lords over the largest entourage of known moons. A discovery announced earlier this year, in fact, brought the total to 79.
The new moons were discovered by a team led by Scott Sheppard, who’s been involved in the discoveries of more than half of Jupiter’s moons. The new batch included 10 moons, which were added to a couple of others announced last year.
Most of the new moons are far from Jupiter, so it takes them a couple of years to orbit the planet. They’re quite small, and they orbit in the opposite direction from the way Jupiter spins on its axis. They probably are fragments of one or more larger moons that were blasted apart by collisions with other moons — adding to the amazing empire of the king of the planets.
And Jupiter is especially easy to find the next couple of nights because it’s quite near our own moon. The planet looks like a brilliant star. It’s to the lower left of the Moon as they climb into good view late this evening, and about the same distance to the upper right of the Moon tomorrow night.
More about the Moon and planets tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield