A Brief Look at the Neptune's Satellite, Triton

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Table of contents

  1. Triton, the Weird Moon of Neptune
  2. The Uncommon Ices on Triton
  3. Facts on Triton

For the first time, astronomers discovered that extreme conditions in Neptune's largest moon, Triton, caused two gases to undergo an extraordinary union. Their discovery has been the ices comprised of carbon monoxide and nitrogen mixture. An international team of astronomers found the carbon monoxide and nitrogen ices on Triton using the Gemini South Telescope in Chile. Their observations revealed the unlikely combination of the two gases in freezing temperatures. They published the results in the Astronomical Journal.

Triton, the Weird Moon of Neptune

According to NASA, Triton is the largest moon of the 13 natural satellites that orbit Neptune. The British astronomer William Lassell discovered Triton on October 10, 1846, just 17 days after the discovery of its host planet. Among all Neptune's moons, this one is the most unusual because it orbits in the opposite direction its planet's rotation. Triton is the only moon in the solar system with this characteristic.

When it comes to its history, scientists think Neptune obtained Triton from the Kuiper Belt several millions of years ago. Their basis is the similarities between Pluto and Triton, such as their diameter, their total mass, their density, and their temperature. Their surface materials are also similar wherein both space objects feature carbon monoxide, methane, and nitrogen. Some experts even consider Triton as a potential twin of Pluto.

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In connection with Triton's surface composition, an international team of astronomers discovered ices on its surface. Instead of being made by usual elements, the team found the ices composed of frozen carbon monoxide and nitrogen, two known gases unlikely to blend together. Their observations revealed that extreme conditions would be the most possible explanation for the remarkable combination.

Their discovery of the uncommon ices was motivated by laboratory experiments that showed the particular infrared wavelength absorbed by the carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas union. As separate gases, carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas feature distinct infrared wavelengths, but when combined, the mixture exhibited an additional, unique wavelength.

The Uncommon Ices on Triton

The team used the 8-meter Gemini South Telescope and recorded the infrared signature on Triton. The signature showed the same distinct features produced in lab settings. Results were obtained by the Immersion Grating Infrared Spectrometer, a high-resolution spectrograph developed by the University of Texas at Austin and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute.

'While the icy spectral fingerprint we uncovered was entirely reasonable, especially as this combination of ices can be created in the lab, pinpointing this specific wavelength of infrared light on another world is unprecedented,' said Stephen C. Tegler, the lead author of the study, from Northern Arizona University. Here are the other details from the Gemini data:

  • Both carbon monoxide and nitrogen freeze as solid ices in Triton.
  • While both gases can form solid ices, they can also produce their individual ices.
  • Aside from freezing together, both gases can condense as a pair.
  • The icy mixture of the two gases may be involved in the geysers spotted by Voyager 2.
  • The icy mixture can respond to seasonal changes in Triton.

Seasonal changes on Triton can occur even if the Sun is so distant from its location. The changes will produce various sunlight patterns that affect the manner or state of gas on Neptune's moon. However, a season on Triton slowly shifts since Neptune is very far from the Sun. A single season on the moon can last up to 40 years. Meanwhile, astronomers discovered more than just the uncommon ice combination on Triton. They also found that laboratory tests combined with telescope observations could help understand complex planetary processes. Results would be useful in explain atmospheric changes, volatile mixtures, and extreme conditions in other planets.

Facts on Triton

Triton is about 2.7 billion miles away from Earth and resides in the cold outer zone of the solar system. Since there are gases on Triton, the moon features an atmosphere like a planet except it is 70,000 less dense than Earth's. Similar to Earth and its moon, Triton is tidally locked in the rotation of Neptune. Only one side of its entire body faces the gas giant at all times. But its backward orbits allow Triton to expose of all of its sides to the Sun. Other interesting details about Triton includes:

  • Triton is estimated to have more rocky surfaces than the icy moons of Saturn and Uranus.
  • Triton's atmosphere is relatively thin and dominated by nitrogen with some traces of methane.
  • Triton's atmosphere is generated by lunar volcanic activity, which is triggered by the Sun's heat in certain seasons.
  • Triton is one of the three celestial bodies in the solar system with volcanism, aside from Earth. The other two are Venus and Io.
  • Triton's overall density is twice that of water, a characteristic known in a handful of moons in the outer solar system.
  • If Triton and Pluto are placed side by side, Triton's 2,700 kilometers of diameter topple Pluto's 2,368 kilometers.
  • One main of the differences between Triton and Pluto is volcanism.
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