NASA Discovers New Neptune Moon
The Hubble space telescope has discovered a new moon orbiting Neptune, Nasa has confirmed. Designated S/2004 N 1, this is the 14th known moon to circle the giant planet.
The S/2004 N1 is so small and faint that it escaped detection by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, which flew by Neptune in 1989. It was discovered by the SETI Institute’s Mark Showalter, who found it while studying photos of Neptune’s rings that had been taken by the Hubble Space Telescope between 2004 and 2009. The moon went undiscovered for so long simply because it was so hard to see.
Just 12 miles across, the moon orbits outside the planet’s 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.
“The moons and arcs 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 said in a press statement. “It’s the same reason a sports photographer tracks a running athlete — the athlete stays in focus, but the background blurs.”
The Hubble imagery has been publicly accessible for years. All it required was a sharp-eyed observer to spot the moon’s track over time. “Anyone could have discovered this,” a modest Showalter told Sky & Telescope. Neptune is the farthest planet from the Sun.