Feeds

Neptune shows off five new moons

Gas giants battle for headlines

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

A team of international astronomers has found five new moons orbiting Neptune. Previously the planet had seven known moons, including a couple of oddities: Triton and Nereid. The moons were discovered in observations made from ground-based telescopes in Chile and Hawaii.

It is almost as if the larger planets of our solar system are trying to out-do one another: earlier this week stargazing scientists spotted two new mini-moons around Saturn.

The scientists made their observations using the 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii telescope in Hawaii, and the 4-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. These cameras were originally developed to hunt for Kuiper Belt objects.

Two of the new moons have prograde orbits - that is, they orbit in the same direction as the planet turns. The remaining three, however, have retrograde orbits.

The other gas giants have both kinds of moons, and they behave quite consistently. Prograde moons tend to be more regular in shape, have more circular orbits, and are thought to have formed along with their planet. Retrograde moons, by contrast, are irregular lumps, and are generally captured pieces of space junk. They have more elliptical orbits, often at inclined planes.

In the midst of all this consistent behaviour, Neptune was something of an oddity. Triton, an irregular shaped body about the size of Pluto, is in a retrograde but circular orbit, while the much smaller Nereid follows a highly eccentric orbital path in a prograde direction. Adding five more normal moons to the mix smoothes the weirdness out, a little.

The astronomers, led by Matthew Holman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, took a long series of exposures using the wide-field mosaic CCD cameras on the two telescopes. They then digitally combined the images to look for small moving objects that were too faint to be resolved in a single shot.

Neptune's newly identified companions are all between 30km and 50km in diameters. This suggests they are most likely re-captured fragments from collisions between larger orbiting bodies, the team says. ®

Related stories

Cassini finds two tiny Saturnian moons
Aurora rattles tin for space exploration
Red moonlight to bathe UK
Lawyers claim earth, sky and moon from Microsoft

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Go beyond APM with real-time IT operations analytics
How IT operations teams can harness the wealth of wire data already flowing through their environment for real-time operational intelligence.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.