Sunday, April 14, 2024

Scientists find three new moons going around planets in our solar system that no one knew about before

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Astronomers found three new moons around Uranus and Neptune, the farthest planets in our solar system.

One moon was discovered circling Uranus, the first time in more than 20 years, and two were found near Neptune.

Scott S. Sheppard, an astronomer, mentioned, “These three new moons are the faintest ever seen around these two icy planets. Special image processing was needed to spot these dim objects.”

This discovery will help future missions exploring Uranus and Neptune, which haven’t been studied in detail since Voyager 2 visited in the 1980s.

The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center revealed these moons on February 23.

The new Uranian moon is the 28th known moon around the icy giant, and it’s probably the smallest at 5 miles (8 kilometers) across. It takes 680 Earth days to complete one orbit around Uranus. The moon, named S/2023 U1, will later be named after a character from Shakespeare, following the tradition of Uranus’ moons having literary names.

Sheppard discovered the Uranian moon in November and December using the Magellan telescopes in Chile. He collaborated with Marina Brozovic and Bob Jacobson from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to determine the moon’s orbit.

The big telescopes, like Magellan and Subaru, helped a scientist named Sheppard discover two new moons around Neptune. One moon is bright and called S/2002 N5, and the other is faint and called S/2021 N1. The telescopes in Hawaii and Japan also joined in the search.

These two moons were first seen in 2021, but it took a couple of years and different telescopes to make sure they were really going around Neptune. They found that the bright moon, S/2002 N5, had actually been seen near Neptune in 2003, but back then, it got lost before they could confirm it was going around the planet.

A special camera on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope took a cool picture of Uranus. It shows the planet’s polar cap and its rings. There’s a faint ring called Zeta, closest to the planet, and it’s visible in the image.

The bigger moon, S/2002 N5, is 14 miles wide and takes nine years to go around Neptune. The smaller one, S/2021 N1, is 8.7 miles wide and takes 27 years to complete its orbit. They will get new names related to sea goddesses from Greek mythology because Neptune, the planet they orbit, is named after the Roman god of the sea.

To find these moons, scientists took many short pictures over a few hours on different nights. Because the moons move quickly compared to the stars, using a single long exposure isn’t the best. By layering the short pictures, they made the moons stand out.

The scientist, Sheppard, thinks these moons ended up around Uranus and Neptune a long time ago when those planets were forming. He also suggests that some of these moons might have broken off from bigger moons after crashing into asteroids or comets.

Understanding how these big planets got their moons helps scientists figure out what our solar system was like in its early, chaotic days.


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