New Moon Discovered Around Neptune in Old Hubble Images
2013-07-16 0:00

By Nadia Drake | wired.com



Our blue and gassy outer planet Neptune hosted 13 known moons until today. Now, there are 14.

The new moon, known as S/2004 N1, is so small and faint that it escaped detection by NASAs Voyager 2 spacecraft, which flew by Neptune in 1989.

Just 12 miles across, the moon orbits outside the planets ring system, carving a rut into space about 65,400 miles away from the ice giant. But S/2004 N1 is a little speed demon: It completes its 372,000-mile orbital journey in just 23 hours.

This is a moon that never sits still long enough to get its picture taken, said the SETI Institutes ace moon-finder Mark Showalter, who discovered the moon while studying long-exposure, archival images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Its one of a half-dozen moons Showalter has found, including Mab and Cupid around Uranus, Saturns shepherd moon Pan, and the two tiniest of Plutos moons, newly named Kerberos and Styx.

Does finding moons ever get boring? Nope. Its a rush, Showalter said.

Showalter first spied something that could have been a new Neptunian moon on July 1. Hed been studying the planets rings, and thought to look a bit farther out. There was this little dot sitting there, he said. It looked like it could be a moon.

Because S/2004 N1 is so dim, Showalter needed some time to confirm the moons presence. After aligning and combining about 15 sets of Hubble images taken between 2004 and 2009, he determined that the dot was, in fact, a moon. Roughly 150 images helped him plot the satellites orbit. You cant see it in the individual images, but when you combine images, it turns up, he said. It turns up very consistently.

Now, he says, hed like to apply the same technique to long-exposure images of the other outer planets, and see if there might be more dim satellites playing hide-and-seek.

[...]

Read the full article at: www.wired.com






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