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The following presentation has been formatted to not fit your screen. Triton: The World that should not be. Adric Riedel. Things that are wrong with Triton. Wasn’t officially named for nearly 100 years Largest retrograde orbiter in the solar system Has an atmosphere Has geysers

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things that are wrong with triton
Things that are wrong with Triton
  • Wasn’t officially named for nearly 100 years
  • Largest retrograde orbiter in the solar system
  • Has an atmosphere
  • Has geysers
  • Looks like a cantaloupe
  • Might even have an underground ocean or magnetic field
history of triton discovery
History of Triton: Discovery
  • Discovered less than a month after Neptune itself, by William Lassell
  • Unusual orbit was spotted very soon after discovery, possibly Neptune rotated retrograde
  • By the 1920s it was known that Triton does indeed rotate retrograde relative to Neptune
a history of triton properties
A History of Triton: Properties
  • Triton was not officially named until 1948, when Gerard Kuiper discovered Nereid (Wikipedia)
  • Long believed to be the largest moon in the solar system
  • In 1936, R. A. Lyttleton published a paper suggesting Pluto was an escaped moon of Neptune, and the event that separated it reversed Triton’s momentum. This is impossible; Triton is actually more massive.
a history of triton atmosphere
A History of Triton: Atmosphere
  • In 1978, astronomers detected a methane (CH4) band in Triton’s spectra; interpreted as a thin atmosphere.
  • Further observations showed it was methane ice
  • Triton is yellow-pink! (due to methane)
  • In 1980, Nitrogen is detected on Triton
  • Triton’s Nitrogen believed frozen or in pools
voyager 2
Voyager 2
  • Encountered Neptune on August 25, 1989
  • Triton was imaged during late spring in its southern hemisphere
  • Voyager 2 found an atmosphere
  • Pressure: 14×10-9 bar
  • Temperature: 38°K
  • Composition: 99.9% N2, 0.01% CH4
the interior
The Interior
  • Believed to be differentiated rock and ice (Ruiz, J.; Torices, A. 2000)
  • Some models (Ruiz, J.; Torices, A. 2000) suggest temperatures of 176 K between different layers of ice, sufficient to melt ammonia-methane ice.
  • Possible tidal heating
  • Practically nothing is known for sure
the surface
The Surface
  • Surface of Triton appears to be new; oldest is the cantaloupe terrain. Dimpled seems to be the youngest. (S.K. Croft, 1990)
  • Surface is entirely ice, apparently a smooth, reflective glaze (no fine particle effects observed)
  • Cryovolcanism via as-yet unknown mechanism
  • Cryovolcanism possibly linked the odd cantaloupe terrain

the surface1
The Surface
  • Wide variety of terrain
  • Cantaloupe terrain possibly due to tectonics (S.K. Croft 1990)
  • Possibly due to collapse
  • Some dimples (#5, #6, #7) appear volcanic

(S.K. Croft 1990)

the surface2
The Surface
  • The current active area (as of 1989) is the south pole, which seems to be retreating
  • There is more N2 in the south polar cap than there is in the atmosphere (Triton’s atmosphere is the relocation of the polar ice caps)
  • More cantaloupe terrain may be discovered underneath
  • Cap disputed by Schenk & Moore (1993)
the atmosphere structure
The Atmosphere: Structure
  • Various proposed thermal structures (Elliot et al. 1999) based on occultation.
  • Note the area from 50-25 km. Elliot had to assume that to allow for the known (by Voyager) surface temperature profile. The cooling process is unknown, or Triton may not be in atmospheric equilibrium

(Elliot et al. 1999)

the atmosphere structure1
The Atmosphere: Structure
  • Principal model is solar heating, conducted down to the surface where it’s radiated away.
  • Geyser plumes level off at 8 km, clouds seen at 30 km. (Olkin 1997)
  • Troposphere to 10 km (more recently 50 km, with energy radiating away above the surface) (Elliot et al. 1999). The lower regions are not homogenous (Elliot, 1998).
the atmosphere structure2
The Atmosphere: Structure
  • Apparent ionosphere from 125-130 km (Stevens et al. 1992, Elliot et al. 1999)
  • Thermosphere is spherically symmetric and isothermal (?) above 400 km (Stevens et al. 1992)
  • Thermosphere reaches peak temperature of 102 K at 600 km (Olkin et al. 1997 using the early Voyager model), drops to 96K (75K with old model)
the atmosphere future
The Atmosphere: Future
  • Olkin et al. (1997) find that either the atmosphere was twice as thick at 50 km during a 1995 occultation or the models are wrong
  • Initially believed to be evidence of asymmetric atmosphere due to high winds and gravitational anomalies (unlikely given the 5.9 day rotation) (Elliot 1997)
  • Eventually deemed to be an actual temperature (+5K) and pressure (x1.8) increase (Elliot 1998, Sicardy 1998)
the future
The Future
  • Currently accepted hypothesis for Triton is that it’s a captured Kuiper Belt Object like Pluto.
  • This explains the similarities to Pluto/Charon and the retrograde motion
  • The current model requires Triton to hit one of the original Neptunian sattelites, and then pick off most of the rest as its orbit stabilized
the future1
The Future
  • Triton is tidally locked to Neptune, and may be subject to tidal heating (if not, it will be soon)
  • The tidal forces may be responsible for the unusually high winds seen on Neptune
  • Triton’s orbit seems stable enough that Triton won’t be destroyed in the next 5 Gyr
the future2
The Future
  • Proposals have been made since 2000 to fund a return mission to Neptune, and determine the state of the rings, the composition and structure of Triton’s atmosphere, electromagnetic fields and physical composition. (Hammel et al. 2002 and subsequent)
  • Current hopes are for a Cassini/Gallileo style orbiter mission, scaling from a simple orbiter to a mission with a Triton lander, Triton orbiter, Neptune Orbiter and Neptune atmospheric probe.
  • Since Triton seems to be entering summer, we have time…
  • Croft, S.K. (1990) LPI 21 248C
  • Elliot, J.L (1997) hst.prop3833E
  • Elliot, J.L (1998) STIN 9914316E
  • Elliot, J.L. et al. (1999) Icarus 143 425-428
  • Hammel, H.B. et al. (2002) ASPC272 297H
  • Herbert, F. & Sandel, B.R. (1991) JGR 9619241H
  • Olkin et al. (1997) Icarus129 178-201
  • Schenk, P. & Moore, J.M. (1993) LPI 24 1247S
  • Sicardy, B. et al (1998) DPS30 4902S
  • Rothery, David. “Sattelites of the Outer Planets: Worlds in their own right”. 2nd ed. New York, Oxford: 1999
  • Ruiz, J. & Torices, A. (2000) LPI 31 1298R
  • Weissman, Paul; McFadden, Lucy-Ann and Johnson, Torrence. “Encyclopedia of the Solar System”. San Diego, Academic Press: 1999
  • Wikipedia. “Triton (moon)”. January 29, 2005.

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