After a lot of ambitious projects, NASA came up with a new idea of exploration. They want to continue the series of studies which look at the moons of the giant planets in our solar system. A closer look at Triton, a moon of Neptune, might help classify it among the moons which hide oceans on their surface.
After studying Europa, Jupiter’s moon, and Titan and Enceladus, moons of Saturn, NASA is planning to send a space probe to explore Triton. The Neptune moon is covered in ice, but the scientists suspect that tidal forces might be warming its surface and it might be hosting a warm ocean. However, the expedition is not as easy as it seems.
Triton, an atypical moon
Triton does not resemble the other cosmic bodies orbiting around Neptune, as it spins in the opposite direction. Astronomers called this phenomenon a retrograde orbit and tried to explain why this occurs. They suspect that Triton actually comes from a Kuiper Belt and, billions of years ago, it stumbled upon Neptune and started orbiting it.
There are few images of Triton, which were captured by Voyage 2 in 1989, when the probe flew by Neptune. These show that the surface of Triton is covered by several craters, fractures, and an ice layer which might be covering an ocean.
Usually, such formations on the surface are caused by tidal forces which act against the cosmic object. However, Neptune’s moon has an almost circular orbit, so the tidal forces should not have such a great impact on its surface. This led to several theories which sought an explanation for the fractures.
Several theories try to explain the peculiarity of Neptune’s moon
One of them suggests that Triton’s orbit was elliptical when the object first started its journey around Neptune. Thus, the tidal forces could have affected the ice layer, causing a possible warming of the ocean underneath. Then, the orbit became regular. As the forces started having less effect, the ocean could have frozen.
There is a second theory which claims that the moon is heading towards its planet and it several billions of years they will collide. This process might be maintaining some active forces which might keep the ocean warm, and a warm ocean might be hosting life.
This would represent the first attempt ever to explore Neptune and its moons. However, such a mission is quite difficult, due to the vast distance from Earth to Neptune. With advanced technology and necessary funding, the mission might become a reality sooner that we would expect.
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