Outer space is larger than most people realize. Our own solar system holds many mysteries yet to be uncovered. The latest ones to be discovered were the dwarf planets that lie beyond the orbit of Pluto, discovered by the New Horizons spacecraft. However, many secrets are revealed after they get inadvertently discovered by scientists who happened to be looking at the right place at the right time or even at older photographs taken by previous space missions, only to discover an anomaly and realize that they had stumbled onto something new, but had previously overlooked it.
That’s is exactly what happened in 2013 when astronomers at the SETI Institute (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) were going over the images of Neptune taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Mark Showalter, a senior researcher at SETI decided to use advanced image processing techniques to study Neptune’s surroundings and its rings in better detail. He combined all the images and processed the newly rendered image, in order to compensate for all the movement. What he noticed was a tiny rock moving in a distinct orbit around the massive ice giant, close to another moon Proteus. The new moon was christened Hippocamp.
A new theory now states that Hippocamp would most likely have been a part of Proteus that broke off after a massive impact from a comet. The tiny new moon is just 21 miles across which made it difficult for astronomers to study it. Neptune is over 4 billion kilometers from earth, which makes it challenging to make observations about it from Earth-based telescopes.