"It's just fascinating for dynamicists" studying how solar system bodies interact and evolve, Mandt said.
"Voyager was a little bit unlucky", said Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute and lead author of a paper describing the moon published Wednesday in Nature. The recently discovered moon, Hippocamp, is indicated by a red box and an enlarged version is inset at upper right. Proteus has migrated outwards because of tidal interactions with Neptune. Showalter and his research team theorize Hippocamp was formed from debris created when a comet slammed into Proteus, the largest of Neptune's inner moons.
The moon had been hiding in plain sight.
Showalter points out that Hubble, at thirty years old, is still one of the most powerful telescopes available to astronomers, and the only instrument, given its clear-eyed space views, that could have found Hippocamp.
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But astronomers' technical abilities were not enough to actually spot it - and only now has the tiny world actually been noticed and catalogued.
"An astronaut landing there would see Neptune very big in the sky, about 30 times the size of the full moon as seen from Earth", says Showalter.
It could enable the discovery of other moons and "exoplanets" outside the solar system - some of which could harbour life. If you know a body's orbit, you can predict how much it will move from one image to the next.
Showalter noted it was surprising finding a moon there at all, as it's very close to another small inner moon (relative to other moons in the solar system) named Proteus.
In total, they managed again to "catch" S/2004 N 1 about two dozen times, which confirmed its existence and allowed the scientists to assign the moon a new name - the Hippocampus, and to determine its orbit, mass and some other features.
This mean's Neptune's smallest moon is close to its second largest. "Atmospheric phenomena, rings with peculiar properties. and these collisions and breakups that formed the inner moons".
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"So we had to come up with this special procedure where we had to say if there's a moon in any given location in the Neptune system, and if we see it in this one location in this one image, then this is where it would appear in every other image we got", said Showalter. Hippocamp, being so much smaller, isn't subject to the same forces - and it's orbiting just where Proteus used to a long time ago. "It is therefore worth exploring the possible connection between these moons".
The earliest image of Hippocamp, obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2004.
At last, research has shown significant data on a 7th moon of Neptune, a planet that until now only really had 6 moons of which to speak.
"Whenever this impact occurred, it no doubt launched debris into orbit around Neptune". They've figured out how big the satellite is as well, and teased out some interesting details about its past, a new study reports.
The tiny blot has been christened Hippocamp after a sea horse from Greek mythology.
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