The smallest moon ever detected around Uranus and two around Neptune

Astronomers have recently made an intriguing discovery in our solar system, uncovering two tiny moons circling Neptune and one orbiting Uranus. These newfound celestial companions bring the total count of known moons around these gas giants to 16 for Neptune and 28 for Uranus.

The most remarkable of these discoveries is Uranus’ new moon, believed to be the smallest ever detected around the ice giant. Measuring a mere 5 miles (8 kilometers) in width, this diminutive moon completes a single orbit around Uranus every 680 days. To put its size into perspective, it’s even smaller than Mars’ moon Deimos, one of the tiniest known moons in our solar system, according to Carnegie Institution for Science.

Currently designated as “S/2023 U1,” the Uranian moon awaits an official name, likely to be drawn from a character in Shakespearean lore.

On Neptune’s front, the brighter of its two newfound moons is provisionally named “S/2002 N5,” with a diameter of 14 miles (23 km) and a 9-year orbit. Meanwhile, its fainter companion, “S/2021 N1,” measures just 8.6 miles (14 km) across and takes 27 years to complete an orbit around Neptune.

These groundbreaking findings were announced by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, showcasing the collaborative efforts of astronomers from various institutions. Utilizing observatories in Hawaii and Chile, researchers, including Scott Sheppard from Carnegie Science and colleagues from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, meticulously observed these elusive moons.

Sheppard’s team employed advanced image processing techniques to unveil these faint objects, marking them as the faintest moons ever detected around Uranus and Neptune using ground-based telescopes. The discovery process involved months of meticulous observation and analysis, with special observing time granted for ultra-pristine conditions to determine the orbit of Neptune’s fainter moon.

Interestingly, all three newfound moons exhibit egg-shaped orbits significantly inclined to the orbital plane of their host planets. This peculiar orbit suggests that they were captured gravitationally at a later stage rather than forming alongside their respective gas giants.

As astronomers continue to probe the depths of our solar system, discoveries like these offer valuable insights into the dynamics and evolution of planetary systems beyond Earth.

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