It is a huge month for space: Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are both on their way, and we can now report the discovery of yet another Jupiter moon.
Jupiter has at least 80 moons, according to Space.com, with more being discovered all the time. The new moon S/2003J24 stands out from the crowd, despite being simply another little space pebble in the crowd. That's because, owing to a self-proclaimed hobbyist named Kai Ly; it is the first planetary moon identified by an amateur rather than a professional researcher at a university or space agency.
"I'm proud to say that this is the first planetary moon discovered by an amateur astronomer!" Ly told Sky and Telescope.
Ly's most recent discovery is the newest addition to the Carme group of Jovian satellites. Carme and her companions are oddly formed space rocks. According to NASA, they orbit Jupiter in the opposite direction of its rotation, a phenomenon known as retrograde.
The group goes around the big planet at an unusual tilt relative to its orbital plane. With a radius of 14 miles, Carme is the largest in the bunch (23 kilometers). Carme is the parent rock of the amateur astronomer's finding and the group's other 22 members. Carme is thought to have been an asteroid trapped by Jupiter's gravity. Its group represents the fragments that broke off during a cosmic collision. Based on Ly's findings, it became obvious that a space rock originally observed by NASA in 2003 was actually a moon orbiting Jupiter as part of the Carme group, which has been submitted to but not yet published in scholarly journals.
Ly calculated the object's 22-day arc using another observatory named Subaru, indicating that the moon candidate was most likely connected to Jupiter's gravity. They were able to detect and confirm the moon's existence using this baseline with other datasets.
Efforts Have Borne Fruit
Ly's efforts poring over years of observations from multiple telescopes allowed her to discover, estimate, and validate the moon's orbit, although NASA possessed photographs of S/2003J24.
EJc0061 is the current designation for this rock, Space.com said. However, it does not yet have a formal name. It will most likely conclude with the letter e, as Carme did. "A name ending in 'e' was chosen in conformity with the International Astronomical Union's protocol for designating outer moons with retrograde orbits," NASA officials noted.
Simultaneously, NASA and other space agencies are working on larger and better telescopes that could one day allow them to locate the moons of exoplanets beyond our solar system. That is a worthwhile quest. But it appears there is still plenty to uncover in our own celestial neighborhood — even for someone like Ly, who was doing astronomy as a "summer hobby before I return to school."
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