One of the most fascinating and humbling aspects of space exploration is that almost everything is billions of years older than the discovery. (Just once, I’d like to see someone find an advertisement for the iPhone 7 plastered all over an alien planet.) Every once in a while, though, astronomers don’t even realize what they’re looking at, and what should have been an old discovery takes a while to be found.
The SETI Institute’s Mark Showalter was studying images of Neptune’s rings taken back in 2009 by the Hubble Space Telescope. On July 1, he started looking along the outer edges of the rings when he noticed a white dot that neither he nor anybody else had identified before. And a new Neptunian moon was born, so to speak. It’s now called S/2004 N 1, just in case you were thinking of writing a song about it.
“The moons and arcs 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 Showalter in a press release. “It’s the same reason a sports photographer tracks a running athlete — the athlete stays in focus, but the background blurs.”