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Hubble finds tiny new moon orbiting Neptune

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July 16, 2013

S/2004 N 1 is the smallest of Neptune's 14 moons (Image: NASA)

S/2004 N 1 is the smallest of Neptune's 14 moons (Image: NASA)

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a previously undetected moon orbiting the distant gas giant Neptune. Given the catchy designation of S/2004 N 1, it's thought to be no more than 12 miles across, making it the smallest of the planet's 14 moons.

Neptune is a distant, windy planet, located more than 30 times as far from our Sun as the Earth. NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft surveyed the planet's moons and rings in 1989, but failed to spot the tiny S/2004 N 1, an understandable omission when you consider that it's roughly 100 million times dimmer than the faintest star visible to the naked eye.

This image of Neptune was taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989, at a distance of 4.4 ...
This image of Neptune was taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989, at a distance of 4.4 million miles (Image: NASA)

The small moon orbits Neptune every 23 hours at a distance of around 65,400 miles (105,250 km). It was discovered almost by accident when Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, extended his analysis of the faint ring-arcs of Neptune beyond the ring system itself, and noticed a small unidentified dot between the orbits of the moons Proteus and Larissa.

Showalter then analyzed more than 150 archival photographs of the gas giant taken by Hubble between 2004 and 2009, finding the same white dot in many of the images.

S/2004 N 1 now joins Neptune's 13 existing moons, the largest of which is the icy Triton at nearly the size of Earth's own moon.

Source: NASA

About the Author
Chris Wood Chris specializes in mobile technology for Gizmag, but also likes to dabble in the latest gaming gadgets. He has a degree in Politics and Ancient History from the University of Exeter, and lives in Gloucestershire, UK. In his spare time you might find him playing music, following a variety of sports or binge watching Game of Thrones.   All articles by Chris Wood
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3 Comments

That's no moon...it's a space station!

Gregory Serber
16th July, 2013 @ 08:53 pm PDT

re; Gregory Serber

Actually it's the multidimensional vortex generator from my starship. I thought I had parked it far enough away to escape notice. Doesn't matter though my antigrav drive shorted out over Siberia in what you call 1908.

Slowburn
16th July, 2013 @ 10:50 pm PDT

Why not move it into orbit around mars or venus or an artificial planet opossed to the earths orbit? Indiviual space rights should trump any UN or governmentatal bogus arangements

eric25001
17th July, 2013 @ 11:07 am PDT
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