An astronomer studying old Neptune images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope discovered a new moon orbiting the planet Neptune, NASA announced on Monday.
This would be the planet’s 14th moon, and its smallest known to date, it is estimated to be about 12 miles in diameter, and is located about 65,400 miles from Neptune.
Mark Showalter, is an astronomer with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who was searching Hubble images for moons inside ring fragments circling Neptune when he decided to run his analysis program on a broader part of the sky.
“We had been processing the data for quite some time and it was on a whim that I said, ‘OK, let’s just look out further,” Showalter told Reuters.
“I changed my program so that instead of stopping just outside the ring system it processed the data all the way out, walked away from my computer and waited an hour while it did all the processing for me. When I came back, I looked at the image and there was this extra dot that wasn’t supposed to be there,” the astronomer who discover Neptune’s new moon said.
Showalter and his colleagues are brainstorming over a name to propose to the International Astronomical Union, which has final say in the matter.
“We haven’t really gotten far with that. What I can say is that the name will be out of Roman and Greek mythology and it will have to do with characters who are related to Neptune, the god of the oceans,” Showalter said.
Neptune’s largest moon Triton, was discovered in 1846, just a short time after the planet itself was found. It took longer to discover Nereid, which was found in 1949 and is Neptune’s third largest moon.
For now, the new moon is called S/2004 N 1, and it’s located between Larissa and Proteus. It orbits Neptune in 23 hours. The paper on the discovery is pending.
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