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Moon and Jupiter

February 17, 2013

In western mythology, the king of the gods — known in ancient Rome as Jupiter — fathered hundreds of children. And the planet that bears his name is also the center of a big family — more than 60 known moons.

A third of those moons were discovered a decade ago. A team led by David Jewitt and Scott Sheppard scanned a wide region of space around Jupiter with a telescope in Hawaii. The survey yielded more than a dozen moons in February of 2003, with a few more in March and April.

Until Jewitt and his team began their work a few years earlier, it had been decades since anyone had put much effort into looking for Jovian moons. Over that interval, the technology had improved a great deal, making it easier to find small, faint moons. And the 2003 discoveries were quite small — no more than a mile or two in diameter.

A few of the moons haven’t been named yet. But most of those that have were named for daughters of Zeus, the Greek equivalent of Jupiter. The list includes several of the Muses — Kallichore, Helike, and Thelxinoe, among others. It also includes daughters by the goddesses of the Moon and agriculture — obedient offspring who stay close to their dear old dad. We’ll have more about these moons tomorrow.

And the dad himself is in great view tonight. Jupiter looks like a brilliant star quite close to our own Moon. The star Aldebaran is to their left, with another group of daughters — the Pleiades star cluster — to their right.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012

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