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Tiny, 12-mile-wide moon found circling Neptune by Hubble telescope

  • Neptune new moon 1.jpg

    NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a new moon orbiting the distant blue-green planet Neptune, seen circled at right. This brings the number of known satellites circling the giant planet to 14. (NASA / ESA)

  • Neptunes New Moon.jpg

    July 15, 2013: This diagram provided by NASA shows the orbits of several moons located close to the planet Neptune. NASA announced the discovery of Neptune's 14th moon. The new moon, Neptune's tiniest, is designated S/2004 N 1. It's 100 million times fainter than the faintest star visible with the naked eye. (AP Photo/NASA)

It’s a moon fit for a prince -- a Little Prince, that is.

In the inky black of space, at the farthest reaches of the solar system, a tiny white blemish lay near the greenish-blue surface of Neptune: a new moon. Neptune’s 14th is an impossibly tiny tumble of rocks a mere 12 miles wide -- just big enough for the star of the famous children’s book, “The Little Prince.”

The new moon, labeled S/2004 N 1, is so small and dim that it is roughly 100 million times fainter than the faintest star that can be seen with the naked eye.

It was spied July by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif, who had been examining the planet’s rings with the Hubble telescope.

"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," he said. "It's the same reason a sports photographer tracks a running athlete — the athlete stays in focus, but the background blurs."

On a whim, he spun a dial to pivot the scope outward and few ticks, and noticed a white dot 65,400 miles from Neptune, between the orbits of Larissa and Proteus.

The moon completes one orbit around Neptune every 23 hours.

The farthest planet from the sun (remember, Pluto was demoted in 2006) has 13 other moons: Triton, Nereid, Despina, Naiad, Thalassa, Proteus, Galatea, Larissa, Sao, Neso, Psamathe, Laomediea and Halimede.

The considerably bigger gas giant Jupiter has four times as many moons, with 67.