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Science File

3 New Moons of Neptune Found

January 18, 2003|Usha Lee McFarling

A team of Canadian and American astronomers has found three moons around the planet Neptune, bringing the total number of known moons orbiting the distant planet to 11.

The tiny moons, ranging from 18 to 24 miles across, are 100 million times fainter than objects that can be seen with the naked eye and were too faint to be seen by Voyager II on its 1989 flight. The moons were detected using multiple-exposure images taken by telescopes in Chile and Hawaii. They appear to be part of a "family" of moons caused by the collision of a comet or asteroid with a bigger moon, said one of the discoverers, astronomer JJ Kavelaars of the National Research Council of Canada.

The new moons join an oddball constellation of satellites. The planet's largest moon, Triton, orbits in a direction opposite to the planet's rotation.

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