Neptune Moon Discovered: See Hubble Space Telescope Capture Mysterious "A/2004 N 1" [PHOTO, VIDEO]

By Staff Reporter on July 16, 2013 5:17 PM EDT

Neptune moon
Another Neptune moon was discovered by the Hubble Space telescope. Meet "A/2004 N 1," a tiny moon orbiting the giant blue planet from a distance. (Photo: NASA, ESA, M. Showalter/SETI I)

A new Neptune moon has been discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope. On July 1, a small, never-before-seen moon orbiting around Neptune was revealed, increasing the number of satellites around the giant blue planet to 14.

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The new moon, designated S/2005 N 1, was discovered when a scientist revisited older Hubble Space Telescope images. The latest moon is Neptune's smallest, measuring just 12 miles wide. In comparison, the Triton, Neptune's biggest moon, is 1,680 miles across. Triton is also the largest moon in the solar system that possesses a retrograde orbit, or a path that travels opposite direction of Neptune's rotation. The radius of planet Neptune is 15,299 miles.

"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," said SETI Institute scientist Mark Showalter, who discovered the moon from the images. "It's the same reason a sports photographer tracks a running athlete - the athlete stays in focus, but the background blurs."

Showalter went through years of archival photos (2004-2006) before identifying the moon in 150 images. By plotting the moon's trajectory by connecting the photos, Showalter saw that the tiny satellite fully orbits Neptune in just 23 hours.

A remarkable discovery, The new moon S/2004 N 1 is so tiny that it is about 100 million times fainter that the dimmest star visible to the naked eye. What's more, even NASA's Voyager 2 failed to identify the moon when the spacecraft flew by in 1989. At the time, Voyager 2 successfully discovered six previously unknown moons.

The famous Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and has delivered the most incredible images of outer space ever captured. NASA officials expect the Hubble to remain in operation until at least 2018 before its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will launch.

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