Mission to Triton?

Triton (bottom) and Neptune (top) as imaged by Voyager 2 in 1989. Image credit: NASA/JPL.

Triton (bottom) and Neptune (top) as imaged by Voyager 2 in 1989. Image credit: NASA/JPL.

Hello and welcome back, Earthlings!

Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, is still a complete mystery to us! Triton is a captured Kuiper Belt Object caught in Neptune’s orbit, slowly spinning inward to eventually crash into Neptune itself! For the time being, only images from the mid-1980s are the ONLY relics we have of Triton’s surface- and barely half of the surface was imaged!

“Ocean Worlds”, a new initiative by NASA and planetary scientists, have led many discussions to push more missions toward ocean world moons, or rather moons with dynamic oceans and surface features, such as plumes!

Triton not only is considered an Ocean World, but the only Kuiper Belt Object NOT in the Kuiper Belt to still have a possible ocean. Pluto, still in the Kuiper Belt, may also have an ocean!

But we can learn SO MUCH about Triton’s ocean being a captured moon, gravity pulls from its host planet Neptune, and that there are ACTIVE geysers on Triton’s south polar region…this moon truly is a profound mystery, and one that makes mission-planning all the more exciting!

Trident, the proposed NASA mission directed by Louise Procter, director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, would get to Triton as a low-cost mission by 2038.

If approved, Trident would be the first mission solely for the Neptune-Triton system.

Active dark nitrogen-rich geysers in the south polar region of Triton, as imaged by Voyager 2. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Active dark nitrogen-rich geysers in the south polar region of Triton, as imaged by Voyager 2. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at interstellar probes!

Caitlin Ahrens