Tags: neptune | moon | discovered

Neptune Moon, Newly Discovered, Is Tiny — Only 12 Miles Wide

Tuesday, 16 Jul 2013 12:50 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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Scientists have discovered a never-before-seen moon orbiting Neptune, bringing the total number of the blue planet's satellites to 14.

The new Neptune moon, dubbed S/2004 N 1, was spotted July 1 using old Hubble Space Telescope images. It measures just 12 miles wide and fully orbits the planet every 23 hours, according to Space.com.

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The moon is so small that not even NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft noticed the orb when it was doing a flyby of Neptune in 1989. During that trip, six previously unknown moons were discovered.

In order to find S/2004 S 1, scientist Mark Showalter dug through archival photos taken by Hubble from 2004 to 2009, Space.com reports.

"The moons and arcs [segments of rings around the planet] orbit very quickly, so we had to devise a way to follow their motion in order to bring out the details of the system," Showalter, who works for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, said in a statement. "It's the same reason a sports photographer tracks a running athlete — the athlete stays in focus, but the background blurs."

Neptune's largest moon is Triton at 1,680 miles across. Because it orbits in the opposite direction if its host planet, scientists have long suspected that the moon is actually a dwarf planet caught in Neptune's gravitational pull.

"This capture would have gravitationally torn up any original satellite system Neptune possessed," Hubble officials wrote in a statement. "Many of the moons now seen orbiting the planet probably formed after Triton settled into its unusual retrograde orbit about Neptune."

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