Planet Neptune’s 14th Moon Discovered

Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Astronomers using the Hubble Space telescope have discovered a 14th moon orbiting the planet Neptune, which was too small to be spotted by Voyager 2 when it completed its flyby in 1989.

The new moon, temporarily designated the name S/2004 N 1, is about 12 miles in diameter, and located 65,400 miles from Neptune. It is also found between the orbits of sister moons Proteus and Larissa, and circles the planet once every 23 hours.

Astronomer Mark Showalter from the Seti Institute in Mountain View, California, made the discovery after studying Hubble observatory images of Neptune taken between 2004 and 2009, and commenting on the new finding, said:

“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. 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 planet Neptune is the fourth largest in the solar system and was discovered in 1846 by English astronomer John C. Adams and Frenchnman Urbain Le Verrier. The planet itself is named after the Roman god of the sea and, in keeping with his aquatic nature, its moons are named after various watery characters from Greek and Roman mythology, such as the sea nymphs (Nereid, Galatea, Halimede, Sao, Laomedeia, Psamathe, Neso). Its other moons are called Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Larisaa, Proteus and Triton.

As to what the moon currently designated S/2004 N 1 will eventually be named, Showalter explained: “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.”

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