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Tech & Science NASA discovers unique orbit to Neptune's moons

17:41  19 november  2019
17:41  19 november  2019 Source:   news.sky.com

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Researchers at NASA have discovered that a unique orbiting pattern by Neptune ' s two innermost moons allows them never to collide, dubbing it a "dance of avoidance". The moons ' unique orbit "has never been seen before" according to Marina Brozovic, the lead author of a new paper.

Neptune , the farthest planet from the sun, has 14 known moons . Almost half of the discoveries took place decades after NASA ' s Voyager 2 spacecraft swung by the Moons of this planet are named for Greek or Roman mythological characters with links to Neptune , Poseidon, or the ocean, according to

NASA has discovered something weird about two of Neptune's moons © Getty NASA has discovered something weird about two of Neptune's moons

Researchers at NASA have discovered that a unique orbiting pattern by Neptune's two innermost moons allows them never to collide, dubbing it a "dance of avoidance".

The moons' unique orbit "has never been seen before" according to Marina Brozovic, the lead author of a new paper.

"There are many different types of 'dances' that planets, moons and asteroids can follow, but this one has never been seen before," added Dr Brozovic.

Diagram shows Neptune's moons. Pic: NASA/ESA and A Feild © Press Release Diagram shows Neptune's moons. Pic: NASA/ESA and A Feild

Neptune has 14 confirmed moons, with the most recent being discovered in 2013 and then ultimately named Hippocamp this year.

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Neptune has 14 known moons , which are named for minor water deities in Greek mythology. By far the largest of them is Triton, discovered by William Lassell on October 10, 1846, 17 days after the discovery of Neptune itself

The most distant is Neso, which orbits the ice giant in an enormous loop which takes it 27 years to complete.

The two innermost moons, Naiad and Thalassa, are much smaller, and oblate rather than spheroid. They orbit the planet every seven and seven-and-a-half hours respectively.

Naiad and Thalassa are Neptune's innermost moons © Press Release Naiad and Thalassa are Neptune's innermost moons

They are very close to each other, orbiting only about 1,150 miles (1,850km) apart - about the distance between the UK and Finland.

But despite that being the average distance of their orbits, they never actually get that close to each other.

This is due to a tilt in Naiad's orbit which is perfectly synchronised with Thalassa's orbit, meaning the moon appears to wobble around its fellow moon.

"An observer sitting on Thalassa would see Naiad in an orbit that varies wildly in a zigzag pattern, passing by twice from above and then twice from below," said NASA.

"We refer to this repeating pattern as a resonance," explained Dr Brozovic.

"We are always excited to find these co-dependencies between moons," said Dr Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute, and a co-author of the new paper.

"Naiad and Thalassa have probably been locked together in this configuration for a very long time, because it makes their orbits more stable.

"They maintain the peace by never getting too close."

A 17-year-old NASA intern just discovered a brand new planet .
I don't know about you, but when I was 17 years old, I wasn't doing very much planet-hunting. Wolf Cukier of Scarsdale High School is different. What’s even more incredible is that this new world is unlike any that astronomers have ever seen. It’s orbiting not one, but two stars at the same time.

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