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Astronomers have discovered two unknown satellites of Neptune, and one of Uranus - the planets have a total of 16 and 28 of them

Astronomers have discovered two unknown satellites of Neptune, and one of Uranus - the planets have a total of 16 and 28 of them
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Thanks to ground-based telescopes, astronomers have discovered three previously unknown satellites in space around Uranus and Neptune: one orbits Uranus, and two orbit Neptune. Thus, the official number of Uranus satellites is 28, and Neptune has 16 satellites.

The moons have yet to be officially named, but according to tradition, both planets' new Uranus satellite will be named after characters from Shakespeare's works, while Neptune's satellites will be named after the Nereids, sea nymphs from Greek mythology.

“The three recently discovered satellites are the faintest ever found around these two icy giant planets using ground-based telescopes. Special image processing was needed to detect such faint objects,” says astronomer Scott Sheppard from the Carnegie Science Institute.

In recent years, Jupiter and Saturn have dominated the race to find new moons, while Neptune and Uranus have remained neglected. The two outer ice planets are far from Earth, making it difficult for spacecraft to travel to them. They are also hard to see with telescopes - their understanding is more limited than other five worlds closer to Earth.

The new Uranus moon, first noticed during observations using one of the Magellan telescopes in November 2023, was confirmed by data dated 2021. It was temporarily named S/2023 U1, and it is the first new Uranus moon discovered in over 20 years. Its diameter is about 8 km, making it the smallest of Uranus' satellites and one of the smallest known satellites in the Solar System. Its orbital period is 680 days.

The brightest of Neptune's two satellites, with the temporary designation S/2002 N5, was first noted during Magellan observations in September 2021 and then again in October with subsequent observations in 2022 and 2023. Its diameter is 23 km, and its orbital period is 9 years.

Newly discovered Uranus moon, S/2023 U1. Photo: Scott Sheppard

The smaller of Neptune's new satellites was observed in 2021 with the Subaru telescope. It was temporarily named S/2021 N1, with dimensions of 14 km in diameter and an orbital period of 27 years around the planet.

The recently discovered satellites suggest that Uranus and Neptune have families of outer satellites in configurations similar to Saturn (146 known satellites) and Jupiter (95 known satellites). This indicates a similarity in the formation of these satellites with families of larger planets.

The new celestial bodies belong to groups of satellites that have similar orbits. S/2023 U1 is associated with Caliban and Stephano. S/2002 N5 correlates with the orbits of Sao and Laomedeia, while the orbit of S/2021 N1 is similar to the orbits of Psamathe and Neso.

None of the orbits are exactly repeated, but the similarity suggests that each of these moon groups may have once been a single object that was captured by planetary gravity before breaking apart. If so, each group may have much smaller satellites that are hard to find. This discovery is yet another compelling reason to send probes to the outer reaches of the Solar System.

Source: Science Alert

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