Triton (moon)

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Triton moon mosaic Voyager 2 (large).jpg
Voyager 2 photomosaic of Triton's sub-Neptunian hemisphere [caption 1]
Discovered by William Lassell
Discovery dateOctober 10, 1846
Neptune I
Pronunciation /ˈtrtən/
Named after
Τρίτων Trītōn
Adjectives Tritonian ( /trˈtniən/ ) [1]
Orbital characteristics
354,759 km
Eccentricity 0.000016 [2]
5.876854 d
(retrograde) [2] [3]
Average orbital speed
4.39 km/s [lower-alpha 1]
Inclination 129.812° (to the ecliptic)
156.885° (to Neptune's equator) [4] [5]
129.608° (to Neptune's orbit)
Satellite of Neptune
Physical characteristics
Mean radius
1,353.4±0.9 km [6] (0.2122 REarth)
23,018,000 km2 [lower-alpha 2]
Volume 10,384,000,000 km3 [lower-alpha 3]
Mass (2.1390±0.0028)×1022 kg
(0.00359 Earths) [lower-alpha 4]
Mean density
2.061 g/cm3 [6]
0.779  m/s2 (0.0794  g ) (0.48 Moons) [lower-alpha 5]
1.455 km/s [lower-alpha 6]
5 d, 21 h, 2 min, 53 s [7]
0 [lower-alpha 7]
Albedo 0.76 [6]
Temperature 38 K (−235.2 °C) [7]
13.47 [8]
−1.2 [9]
Surface pressure
1.4 to 1.9 Pa (1.38×10−5 to 1.88×10−5 atm) [7] [10]
Composition by volume nitrogen; methane traces [11]

Triton is the largest natural satellite of the planet Neptune, and was the first Neptunian moon to be discovered, on October 10, 1846, by English astronomer William Lassell. It is the only large moon in the Solar System with a retrograde orbit, an orbit in the direction opposite to its planet's rotation. [3] [12] Because of its retrograde orbit and composition similar to Pluto, Triton is thought to have been a dwarf planet, captured from the Kuiper belt. [13]


At 2,710 kilometers (1,680 mi) [6] in diameter, it is the seventh-largest moon in the Solar System, the only satellite of Neptune massive enough to be in hydrostatic equilibrium, the second-largest planetary moon in relation to its primary (after Earth's Moon), and larger than Pluto. Triton is one of the few moons in the Solar System known to be geologically active (the others being Jupiter's Io and Europa, and Saturn's Enceladus and Titan). As a consequence, its surface is relatively young, with few obvious impact craters. Intricate cryovolcanic and tectonic terrains suggest a complex geological history. Triton has a surface of mostly frozen nitrogen, a mostly water-ice crust, [14] an icy mantle and a substantial core of rock and metal. The core makes up two thirds of its total mass. The mean density is 2.061 g/cm3, [6] reflecting a composition of approximately 15–35% water ice. [7]

During its 1989 flyby of Triton, Voyager 2 found surface temperatures of 38 K (−235 °C), and also discovered active geysers erupting sublimated nitrogen gas, contributing to a tenuous nitrogen atmosphere less than 170,000 the pressure of Earth's atmosphere at sea level. [7] Voyager 2 remains the only spacecraft to have visited Triton. [15] As the probe was only able to study about 40% of the moon's surface, future missions have been proposed to revisit the Neptune system with a focus on Triton.

Discovery and naming

William Lassell, the discoverer of Triton William Lassell.jpg
William Lassell, the discoverer of Triton

Triton was discovered by British astronomer William Lassell on October 10, 1846, [16] just 17 days after the discovery of Neptune. When John Herschel received news of Neptune's discovery, he wrote to Lassell suggesting he search for possible moons. Lassell discovered Triton eight days later. [16] [17] Lassell also claimed for a period [lower-alpha 8] to have discovered rings. [18] Although Neptune was later confirmed to have rings, they are so faint and dark that it is not plausible he saw them. A brewer by trade, Lassell spotted Triton with his self-built 61 cm (24 in) aperture metal mirror reflecting telescope (also known as the "two-foot" reflector). [19] This telescope was donated to the Royal Observatory, Greenwich in the 1880s, but was eventually dismantled. [19]

Triton is named after the Greek sea god Triton (Τρίτων), the son of Poseidon (the Greek god corresponding to the Roman Neptune). The name was first proposed by Camille Flammarion in his 1880 book Astronomie Populaire, [20] and was officially adopted many decades later. [21] Until the discovery of the second moon Nereid in 1949, Triton was commonly referred to as "the satellite of Neptune". Lassell did not name his own discovery; he later successfully suggested the name Hyperion, previously chosen by John Herschel, for the eighth moon of Saturn when he discovered it. [22]

Orbit and rotation

The orbit of Triton (red) is opposite in direction and tilted -23deg compared to a typical moon's orbit (green) in the plane of Neptune's equator. Triton orbit & Neptune.png
The orbit of Triton (red) is opposite in direction and tilted −23° compared to a typical moon's orbit (green) in the plane of Neptune's equator.

Triton is unique among all large moons in the Solar System for its retrograde orbit around its planet (i.e. it orbits in a direction opposite to the planet's rotation). Most of the outer irregular moons of Jupiter and Saturn also have retrograde orbits, as do some of Uranus's outer moons. However, these moons are all much more distant from their primaries, and are small in comparison; the largest of them (Phoebe) [lower-alpha 9] has only 8% of the diameter (and 0.03% of the mass) of Triton.

Triton's orbit is associated with two tilts, the obliquity of Neptune's rotation to Neptune's orbit, 30°, and the inclination of Triton's orbit to Neptune's rotation, 157° (an inclination over 90° indicates retrograde motion). Triton's orbit precesses forward relative to Neptune's rotation with a period of about 678 Earth years (4.1 Neptunian years), [4] [5] making its Neptune-orbit-relative inclination vary between 127° and 173°. That inclination is currently 130°; Triton's orbit is now near its maximum departure from coplanarity with Neptune's.

Triton's rotation is tidally locked to be synchronous with its orbit around Neptune: it keeps one face oriented toward the planet at all times. Its equator is almost exactly aligned with its orbital plane. [23] At the present time, Triton's rotational axis is about 40° from Neptune's orbital plane, and hence at some point during Neptune's year each pole points fairly close to the Sun, almost like the poles of Uranus; Neptune's axial tilt is 28°, so adding 40° means Triton can currently have a maximum axial tilt of 68° relative to the Sun. As Neptune orbits the Sun, Triton's polar regions take turns facing the Sun, resulting in seasonal changes as one pole, then the other, moves into the sunlight. Such changes were observed in 2010. [24]

Triton's revolution around Neptune has become a nearly perfect circle with an eccentricity of almost zero. Viscoelastic damping from tides alone is not thought to be capable of circularizing Triton's orbit in the time since the origin of the system, and gas drag from a prograde debris disc is likely to have played a substantial role. [4] [5] Tidal interactions also cause Triton's orbit, which is already closer to Neptune than the Moon is to Earth, to gradually decay further; predictions are that 3.6 billion years from now, Triton will pass within Neptune's Roche limit. [25] This will result in either a collision with Neptune's atmosphere or the breakup of Triton, forming a new ring system similar to that found around Saturn. [25]


Animation of Triton Triton Rotation Movie.gif
Animation of Triton
The Kuiper belt (green), in the Solar System's outskirts, is where Triton is thought to have originated. Outersolarsystem objectpositions labels comp.png
The Kuiper belt (green), in the Solar System's outskirts, is where Triton is thought to have originated.

Moons in retrograde orbits cannot form in the same region of the solar nebula as the planets they orbit, so Triton must have been captured from elsewhere. It might therefore have originated in the Kuiper belt, [13] a ring of small icy objects extending from just inside the orbit of Neptune to about 50  AU from the Sun. Thought to be the point of origin for the majority of short-period comets observed from Earth, the belt is also home to several large, planet-like bodies including Pluto, which is now recognized as the largest in a population of Kuiper belt objects (the plutinos) locked in resonant orbits with Neptune. Triton is only slightly larger than Pluto and is nearly identical in composition, which has led to the hypothesis that the two share a common origin. [26]

The proposed capture of Triton may explain several features of the Neptunian system, including the extremely eccentric orbit of Neptune's moon Nereid and the scarcity of moons as compared to the other giant planets. Triton's initially eccentric orbit would have intersected orbits of irregular moons and disrupted those of smaller regular moons, dispersing them through gravitational interactions. [4] [5]

Triton's eccentric post-capture orbit would have also resulted in tidal heating of its interior, which could have kept Triton fluid for a billion years; this inference is supported by evidence of differentiation in Triton's interior. This source of internal heat disappeared following tidal locking and circularization of the orbit. [27]

Two types of mechanisms have been proposed for Triton's capture. To be gravitationally captured by a planet, a passing body must lose sufficient energy to be slowed down to a speed less than that required to escape. [7] An early theory of how Triton may have been slowed was by collision with another object, either one that happened to be passing by Neptune (which is unlikely), or a moon or proto-moon in orbit around Neptune (which is more likely). [7] A more recent hypothesis suggests that, before its capture, Triton was part of a binary system. When this binary encountered Neptune, it interacted in such a way that the binary dissociated, with one portion of the binary expelled, and the other, Triton, becoming bound to Neptune. This event is more likely for more massive companions. [13] This hypothesis is supported by several lines of evidence, including binaries being very common among the large Kuiper belt objects. [28] [29] The event was brief but gentle, saving Triton from collisional disruption. Events like this may have been common during the formation of Neptune, or later when it migrated outward. [13]

However, simulations in 2017 showed that after Triton's capture, and before its orbital eccentricity decreased, it probably did collide with at least one other moon, and caused collisions between other moons. [30] [31]

Physical characteristics

A layered view of Triton, to scale Triton-en.svg
A layered view of Triton, to scale
Masa de triton.svg
Triton dominates the Neptunian moon system, with over 99.5% of its total mass. This imbalance may reflect the elimination of many of Neptune's original satellites following Triton's capture. [4] [5]
Triton, Earth & Moon size comparison.jpg
Triton (lower left) compared to the Moon (upper left) and Earth (right), to scale

Triton is the seventh-largest moon and sixteenth-largest object in the Solar System, and is modestly larger than the dwarf planets Pluto and Eris. It is also the largest retrograde moon in the solar system. It comprises more than 99.5% of all the mass known to orbit Neptune, including the planet's rings and thirteen other known moons, [lower-alpha 10] and is also more massive than all known moons in the Solar System smaller than itself combined. [lower-alpha 11] Also, with a diameter 5.5% that of Neptune, it is the largest moon of a gas giant relative to its planet in terms of diameter, although Titan is bigger relative to Saturn in terms of mass (the ratio of Triton's mass to that of Neptune is approximately 1:4788). It has a radius, density (2.061 g/cm3), temperature and chemical composition similar to that of Pluto. [32]

Triton's surface is covered with a transparent layer of annealed frozen nitrogen. Only 40% of Triton's surface has been observed and studied, but it is possible that it is entirely covered in such a thin sheet of nitrogen ice. Like Pluto's, Triton's crust consists of 55% nitrogen ice with other ices mixed in. Water ice comprises 15–35% and frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) the remaining 10–20%. Trace ices include 0.1% methane and 0.05% carbon monoxide. [7] There could also be ammonia ice on the surface, as there are indications of ammonia dihydrate in the lithosphere. [33] Triton's mean density implies that it probably consists of about 30–45% water ice (including relatively small amounts of volatile ices), with the remainder being rocky material. [7] Triton's surface area is 23 million km2, which is 4.5% of Earth, or 15.5% of Earth's land area. Triton has an unusually high albedo, reflecting 60–95% of the sunlight that reaches it, and it has changed only slightly since the first observations. By comparison, the Moon reflects only 11%. [34] Triton's reddish color is thought to be the result of methane ice, which is converted to tholins under exposure to ultraviolet radiation. [7] [35]

Because Triton's surface indicates a long history of melting, models of its interior posit that Triton is differentiated, like Earth, into a solid core, a mantle and a crust. Water, the most abundant volatile in the Solar System, comprises Triton's mantle, enveloping a core of rock and metal. There is enough rock in Triton's interior for radioactive decay to maintain a liquid subsurface ocean to this day, similar to what is thought to exist beneath the surface of Europa and a number of other icy outer Solar System worlds. [7] [36] [37] [38] This is not thought to be adequate to power convection in Triton's icy crust. However, the strong obliquity tides are believed to generate enough additional heat to accomplish this and produce the observed signs of recent surface geological activity. [38] The black material ejected is suspected to contain organic compounds, [37] and if liquid water is present on Triton, it has been speculated that this could make it habitable for some form of life. [37] [39] [40]


Artist's impression of Triton, showing its tenuous atmosphere just over the limb. Triton (artist's impression).jpg
Artist's impression of Triton, showing its tenuous atmosphere just over the limb.

Triton has a tenuous nitrogen atmosphere, with trace amounts of carbon monoxide and small amounts of methane near its surface. [11] [41] [42] Like Pluto's atmosphere, the atmosphere of Triton is thought to have resulted from evaporation of nitrogen from its surface. [26] Its surface temperature is at least 35.6 K (−237.6 °C) because Triton's nitrogen ice is in the warmer, hexagonal crystalline state, and the phase transition between hexagonal and cubic nitrogen ice occurs at that temperature. [43] An upper limit in the low 40s (K) can be set from vapor pressure equilibrium with nitrogen gas in Triton's atmosphere. [44] This is colder than Pluto's average equilibrium temperature of 44 K (−229.2 °C). Triton's surface atmospheric pressure is only about 1.4–1.9  Pa (0.014–0.019  mbar ). [7]

Clouds observed above Triton's limb by Voyager 2. Tritoncloud.jpg
Clouds observed above Triton's limb by Voyager 2.

Turbulence at Triton's surface creates a troposphere (a "weather region") rising to an altitude of 8 km. Streaks on Triton's surface left by geyser plumes suggest that the troposphere is driven by seasonal winds capable of moving material of over a micrometer in size. [45] Unlike other atmospheres, Triton's lacks a stratosphere, and instead has a thermosphere from altitudes of 8 to 950 km, and an exosphere above that. [7] The temperature of Triton's upper atmosphere, at 95±5 K, is higher than that at its surface, due to heat absorbed from solar radiation and Neptune's magnetosphere. [11] [46] A haze permeates most of Triton's troposphere, thought to be composed largely of hydrocarbons and nitriles created by the action of sunlight on methane. Triton's atmosphere also has clouds of condensed nitrogen that lie between 1 and 3 km from its surface. [7]

In 1997, observations from Earth were made of Triton's limb as it passed in front of stars. These observations indicated the presence of a denser atmosphere than was deduced from Voyager 2 data. [47] Other observations have shown an increase in temperature by 5% from 1989 to 1998. [48] These observations indicated Triton was approaching an unusually warm southern-hemisphere summer season that happens only once every few hundred years. Theories for this warming include a change of frost patterns on Triton's surface and a change in ice albedo, which would allow more heat to be absorbed. [49] Another theory argues that the changes in temperature are a result of deposition of dark, red material from geological processes. Because Triton's Bond albedo is among the highest in the Solar System, it is sensitive to small variations in spectral albedo. [50]

Surface features

Interpretative geomorphological map of Triton Geology of Triton.jpg
Interpretative geomorphological map of Triton

All detailed knowledge of the surface of Triton was acquired from a distance of 40,000 km by the Voyager 2 spacecraft during a single encounter in 1989. [51] The 40% of Triton's surface imaged by Voyager 2 revealed blocky outcrops, ridges, troughs, furrows, hollows, plateaus, icy plains and few craters. Triton is relatively flat; its observed topography never varies beyond a kilometer. [7] The impact craters observed are concentrated almost entirely in Triton's leading hemisphere. [52] Analysis of crater density and distribution has suggested that in geological terms, Triton's surface is extremely young, with regions varying from an estimated 50 million years old to just an estimated 6 million years old. [53] Fifty-five percent of Triton's surface is covered with frozen nitrogen, with water ice comprising 15–35% and frozen CO2 forming the remaining 10–20%. [54] The surface shows deposits of tholins, organic chemical compounds that may be precursors to the origin of life. [55]


One of the largest cryovolcanic features found on Triton is Leviathan Patera, [56] a caldera-like feature roughly 100 km in diameter seen near the equator. Surrounding this caldera is a volcanic dome that stretches for roughly 2,000 km along its longest axis, indicating that Leviathan is the second largest volcano in the solar system by area, after Alba Mons. This feature is also connected to two enormous cryolava lakes seen north-west of the caldera. Because the cryolava on Triton is believed to be primarily water ice with some ammonia, these lakes would qualify as stable bodies of surface liquid water while they were molten. This is the first place such bodies have been found apart from Earth, and Triton is the only icy body known to feature cryolava lakes, although similar cryomagmatic extrusions can be seen on Ariel, Ganymede, Charon, and Titan. [57]

The Voyager 2 probe observed in 1989 a handful of geyser-like eruptions of nitrogen gas and entrained dust from beneath the surface of Triton in plumes up to 8 km high. [32] [58] Triton is thus, along with Earth, Io, Europa and Enceladus, one of the few bodies in the Solar System on which active eruptions of some sort have been observed. [59] The best-observed examples are named Hili and Mahilani (after a Zulu water sprite and a Tongan sea spirit, respectively). [60]

All the geysers observed were located between 50° and 57°S, the part of Triton's surface close to the subsolar point. This indicates that solar heating, although very weak at Triton's great distance from the Sun, plays a crucial role. It is thought that the surface of Triton probably consists of a translucent layer of frozen nitrogen overlying a darker substrate, which creates a kind of "solid greenhouse effect". Solar radiation passes through the thin surface ice sheet, slowly heating and vaporizing subsurface nitrogen until enough gas pressure accumulates for it to erupt through the crust. [7] [45] A temperature increase of just 4  K above the ambient surface temperature of 37 K could drive eruptions to the heights observed. [58] Although commonly termed "cryovolcanic", this nitrogen plume activity is distinct from Triton's larger scale cryovolcanic eruptions, as well as volcanic processes on other worlds, which are powered by internal heat. CO2 geysers on Mars are thought to erupt from its south polar cap each spring in the same way as Triton's geysers. [61]

Each eruption of a Triton geyser may last up to a year, driven by the sublimation of about 100 million m3 (3.5 billion cu ft) of nitrogen ice over this interval; dust entrained may be deposited up to 150 km downwind in visible streaks, and perhaps much farther in more diffuse deposits. [58] Voyager 2's images of Triton's southern hemisphere show many such streaks of dark material. [62] Between 1977 and the Voyager 2 flyby in 1989, Triton shifted from a reddish color, similar to Pluto, to a far paler hue, suggesting that lighter nitrogen frosts had covered older reddish material. [7] The eruption of volatiles from Triton's equator and their deposition at the poles may redistribute enough mass over the course of 10,000 years to cause polar wander. [63]

Polar cap, plains and ridges

Triton's bright south polar cap above a region of cantaloupe terrain Triton (moon).jpg
Triton's bright south polar cap above a region of cantaloupe terrain

Triton's south polar region is covered by a highly reflective cap of frozen nitrogen and methane sprinkled by impact craters and openings of geysers. Little is known about the north pole because it was on the night side during the Voyager 2 encounter, but it is thought that Triton must also have a north polar ice cap. [43]

The high plains found on Triton's eastern hemisphere, such as Cipango Planum, cover over and blot out older features, and are therefore almost certainly the result of icy lava washing over the previous landscape. The plains are dotted with pits, such as Leviathan Patera, which are probably the vents from which this lava emerged. The composition of the lava is unknown, although a mixture of ammonia and water is suspected. [7]

Four roughly circular "walled plains" have been identified on Triton. They are the flattest regions so far discovered, with a variance in altitude of less than 200 m. They are thought to have formed from eruption of icy lava. [7] The plains near Triton's eastern limb are dotted with black spots, the maculae . Some maculae are simple dark spots with diffuse boundaries, and others comprise a dark central patch surrounded by a white halo with sharp boundaries. The maculae typically have diameters of about 100 km and widths of the halos of between 20 and 30 km. [7]

There are extensive ridges and valleys in complex patterns across Triton's surface, probably the result of freeze–thaw cycles. [64] Many also appear to be tectonic in nature and may result from extension or strike-slip faulting. [65] There are long double ridges of ice with central troughs bearing a strong resemblance to Europan lineae (although they have a larger scale [14] ), and which may have a similar origin, [7] possibly shear heating from strike-slip motion along faults caused by diurnal tidal stresses experienced before Triton's orbit was fully circularized. [14] These faults with parallel ridges expelled from the interior cross complex terrain with valleys in the equatorial region. The ridges and furrows, or sulci, such as Yasu Sulci, Ho Sulci, and Lo Sulci, [66] are thought to be of intermediate age in Triton's geological history, and in many cases to have formed concurrently. They tend to be clustered in groups or "packets". [65]

Cantaloupe terrain

Cantaloupe terrain viewed from 130,000 km by Voyager 2, with crosscutting Europa-like double ridges. Slidr Sulci (vertical) and Tano Sulci form the prominent "X". PIA01537 Triton Faults.jpg
Cantaloupe terrain viewed from 130,000 km by Voyager 2 , with crosscutting Europa-like double ridges. Slidr Sulci (vertical) and Tano Sulci form the prominent "X".

Triton's western hemisphere consists of a strange series of fissures and depressions known as "cantaloupe terrain" because of its resemblance to the skin of a cantaloupe melon. Although it has few craters, it is thought that this is the oldest terrain on Triton. [67] It probably covers much of Triton's western half. [7]

Cantaloupe terrain, which is mostly dirty water ice, is only known to exist on Triton. It contains depressions 30–40 km in diameter. [67] The depressions (cavi) are probably not impact craters because they are all of similar size and have smooth curves. The leading hypothesis for their formation is diapirism, the rising of "lumps" of less dense material through a stratum of denser material. [7] [68] Alternative hypotheses include formation by collapses, or by flooding caused by cryovolcanism. [67]

Impact craters

Tuonela Planitia (left) and Ruach Planitia (center) are two of Triton's cryovolcanic "walled plains". The paucity of craters is evidence of extensive, relatively recent, geologic activity. PIA01538 Complex Geologic History of Triton.jpg
Tuonela Planitia (left) and Ruach Planitia (center) are two of Triton's cryovolcanic "walled plains". The paucity of craters is evidence of extensive, relatively recent, geologic activity.

Due to constant erasure and modification by ongoing geological activity, impact craters on Triton's surface are relatively rare. A census of Triton's craters imaged by Voyager 2 found only 179 that were incontestably of impact origin, compared with 835 observed for Uranus's moon Miranda, which has only three percent of Triton's surface area. [69] The largest crater observed on Triton thought to have been created by an impact is a 27-kilometer-diameter (17 mi) feature called Mazomba. [69] [70] Although larger craters have been observed, they are generally thought to be volcanic in nature. [69]

The few impact craters on Triton are almost all concentrated in the leading hemisphere—that facing the direction of the orbital motion—with the majority concentrated around the equator between 30° and 70° longitude, [69] resulting from material swept up from orbit around Neptune. [53] Because it orbits with one side permanently facing the planet, astronomers expect that Triton should have fewer impacts on its trailing hemisphere, due to impacts on the leading hemisphere being more frequent and more violent. [69] Voyager 2 imaged only 40% of Triton's surface, so this remains uncertain. However, the observed cratering asymmetry exceeds what can be explained on the basis of the impactor populations, and implies a younger surface age for the crater-free regions (≤ 6 million years old) than for the cratered regions (≤ 50 million years old). [52]

Observation and exploration

NASA illustration detailing the studies of the proposed Trident mission PIA23874-NeptuneMoonTriton-TridentMission-20200616.jpg
NASA illustration detailing the studies of the proposed Trident mission
Neptune (top) and Triton (bottom) three days after flyby of Voyager 2 Voyager 2 Neptune and Triton.jpg
Neptune (top) and Triton (bottom) three days after flyby of Voyager 2

The orbital properties of Triton were already determined with high accuracy in the 19th century. It was found to have a retrograde orbit, at a very high angle of inclination to the plane of Neptune's orbit. The first detailed observations of Triton were not made until 1930. Little was known about the satellite until Voyager 2 flew by in 1989. [7]

Before the flyby of Voyager 2, astronomers suspected that Triton might have liquid nitrogen seas and a nitrogen/methane atmosphere with a density as much as 30% that of Earth. Like the famous overestimates of the atmospheric density of Mars, this proved incorrect. As with Mars, a denser atmosphere is postulated for its early history. [71]

The first attempt to measure the diameter of Triton was made by Gerard Kuiper in 1954. He obtained a value of 3,800 km. Subsequent measurement attempts arrived at values ranging from 2,500 to 6,000 km, or from slightly smaller than the Moon (3,474.2 km) to nearly half the diameter of Earth. [72] Data from the approach of Voyager 2 to Neptune on August 25, 1989, led to a more accurate estimate of Triton's diameter (2,706 km). [73]

In the 1990s, various observations from Earth were made of the limb of Triton using the occultation of nearby stars, which indicated the presence of an atmosphere and an exotic surface. Observations in late 1997 suggest that Triton is heating up and the atmosphere has become significantly denser since Voyager 2 flew past in 1989. [47]

New concepts for missions to the Neptune system to be conducted in the 2010s were proposed by NASA scientists on numerous occasions over the last decades. All of them identified Triton as being a prime target and a separate Triton lander comparable to the Huygens probe for Titan was frequently included in those plans. No efforts aimed at Neptune and Triton went beyond the proposal phase and NASA's funding on missions to the outer Solar System is currently focused on the Jupiter and Saturn systems. [74] A proposed lander mission to Triton, called Triton Hopper , would mine nitrogen ice from the surface of Triton and process it to be used as propellant for a small rocket, enabling it to fly or 'hop' across the surface. [75] [76] Another concept, involving a flyby, was formally proposed in 2019 as part of NASA's Discovery Program under the name Trident . [77] Neptune Odyssey is a mission concept for a Neptune orbiter with a focus in Triton being studied as a possible large strategic science mission by NASA that would launch in 2033 and arrive at the Neptune system in 2049. [78]


PIA18668 Map of Triton.jpg
PIA18668 Map of Triton.jpg
Enhanced-color map; leading hemisphere is on right
Triton polar maps.jpg
Triton polar maps.jpg
Enhanced-color polar maps; south is right

See also


  1. Photomosaic of Triton's sub-Neptunian hemisphere. The bright, slightly pinkish, south polar cap at bottom is composed of nitrogen and methane ice and is streaked by dust deposits left by nitrogen gas geysers. The mostly darker region above it includes Triton's "cantaloupe terrain" and cryovolcanic and tectonic features. Near the lower right limb are several dark maculae ("strange spots").
  1. Calculated on the basis of other parameters.
  2. Surface area derived from the radius r: .
  3. Volume v derived from the radius r: .
  4. Mass m derived from the density d and the volume v: .
  5. Surface gravity derived from the mass m, the gravitational constant G and the radius r: .
  6. Escape velocity derived from the mass m, the gravitational constant G and the radius r: .
  7. With respect to Triton's orbit about Neptune.
  8. Lassell rejected his previous claim of discovery when he found that the orientation of the supposed rings changed when he rotated his telescope tube; see p. 9 of Smith & Baum, 1984. [18]
  9. Largest irregular moons: Saturn's Phoebe (210 km), Uranus's Sycorax (160 km), and Jupiter's Himalia (140 km)
  10. Mass of Triton: 2.14×1022 kg. Combined mass of 12 other known moons of Neptune: 7.53×1019 kg, or 0.35%. The mass of the rings is negligible.
  11. The masses of other spherical moons are: Titania—3.5×1021, Oberon—3.0×1021, Rhea—2.3×1021, Iapetus—1.8×1021, Charon—1.5×1021, Ariel—1.3×1021, Umbriel—1.2×1021, Dione—1.0×1021, Tethys—0.6×1021, Enceladus—0.12×1021, Miranda—0.06×1021, Proteus—0.05×1021, Mimas—0.04×1021. The total mass of remaining moons is about 0.09×1021. So, the total mass of all moons smaller than Triton is about 1.65×1022. (See List of moons by diameter)

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Umbriel is a moon of Uranus discovered on October 24, 1851, by William Lassell. It was discovered at the same time as Ariel and named after a character in Alexander Pope's poem The Rape of the Lock. Umbriel consists mainly of ice with a substantial fraction of rock, and may be differentiated into a rocky core and an icy mantle. The surface is the darkest among Uranian moons, and appears to have been shaped primarily by impacts. However, the presence of canyons suggests early endogenic processes, and the moon may have undergone an early endogenically driven resurfacing event that obliterated its older surface.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pluto</span> Dwarf planet

Pluto is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a ring of bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune. It is the ninth-largest and tenth-most-massive known object to directly orbit the Sun. It is the largest known trans-Neptunian object by volume, by a small margin, but is slightly less massive than Eris. Like other Kuiper belt objects, Pluto is made primarily of ice and rock and is much smaller than the inner planets. Compared to Earth's moon, Pluto has only one sixth its mass and one third its volume.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charon (moon)</span> Largest natural satellite of Pluto

Charon, known as (134340) Pluto I, is the largest of the five known natural satellites of the dwarf planet Pluto. It has a mean radius of 606 km (377 mi). Charon is the sixth-largest known trans-Neptunian object after Pluto, Eris, Haumea, Makemake and Gonggong. It was discovered in 1978 at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., using photographic plates taken at the United States Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station (NOFS).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oberon (moon)</span> Moon of Uranus

Oberon, also designated Uranus IV, is the outermost major moon of the planet Uranus. It is the second-largest and second most massive of the Uranian moons, and the ninth most massive moon in the Solar System. Discovered by William Herschel in 1787, Oberon is named after the mythical king of the fairies who appears as a character in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Its orbit lies partially outside Uranus's magnetosphere.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Proteus (moon)</span> Large moon of Neptune

Proteus, also known as Neptune VIII, is the second-largest Neptunian moon, and Neptune's largest inner satellite. Discovered by Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989, it is named after Proteus, the shape-changing sea god of Greek mythology. Proteus orbits Neptune in a nearly equatorial orbit at a distance of about 4.75 times the radius of Neptune's equator.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hyperion (moon)</span> Moon of Saturn

Hyperion, also known as Saturn VII, is a moon of Saturn discovered by William Cranch Bond, his son George Phillips Bond and William Lassell in 1848. It is distinguished by its irregular shape, its chaotic rotation, and its unexplained sponge-like appearance. It was the first non-round moon to be discovered.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Atmosphere</span> Layer of gases surrounding an astronomical body held by gravity

An atmosphere is a layer of gas or layers of gases that envelop a planet, and is held in place by the gravity of the planetary body. A planet retains an atmosphere when the gravity is great and the temperature of the atmosphere is low. A stellar atmosphere is the outer region of a star, which includes the layers above the opaque photosphere; stars of low temperature might have outer atmospheres containing compound molecules.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Titania (moon)</span> Largest moon of Uranus

Titania, also designated Uranus III, is the largest of the moons of Uranus and the eighth largest moon in the Solar System at a diameter of 1,578 kilometres (981 mi). Discovered by William Herschel in 1787, it is named after the queen of the fairies in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Its orbit lies inside Uranus's magnetosphere.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ariel (moon)</span> Fourth-largest moon of Uranus

Ariel is the fourth-largest of the 27 known moons of Uranus. Ariel orbits and rotates in the equatorial plane of Uranus, which is almost perpendicular to the orbit of Uranus and so has an extreme seasonal cycle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Larissa (moon)</span> Moon of Neptune

Larissa, also known as Neptune VII, is the fifth-closest inner satellite of Neptune. It is named after Larissa, a lover of Poseidon (Neptune) in Greek mythology and eponymous nymph of the city in Thessaly, Greece.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thalassa (moon)</span> Moon of Neptune

Thalassa, also known as Neptune IV, is the second-innermost satellite of Neptune. Thalassa was named after sea goddess Thalassa, a daughter of Aether and Hemera from Greek mythology. "Thalassa" is also the Greek word for "sea".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Despina (moon)</span> Moon of Neptune

Despina, also known as Neptune V, is the third-closest inner moon of Neptune. It is named after Greek mythological character Despoina, a nymph who was a daughter of Poseidon and Demeter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Moons of Uranus</span> Natural satellites of the planet Uranus

Uranus, the seventh planet of the Solar System, has 27 known moons, most of which are named after characters that appear in, or are mentioned in, the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. Uranus's moons are divided into three groups: thirteen inner moons, five major moons, and nine irregular moons. The inner and major moons all have prograde orbits, while orbits of the irregulars are mostly retrograde. The inner moons are small dark bodies that share common properties and origins with Uranus's rings. The five major moons are ellipsoidal, indicating that they reached hydrostatic equilibrium at some point in their past, and four of them show signs of internally driven processes such as canyon formation and volcanism on their surfaces. The largest of these five, Titania, is 1,578 km in diameter and the eighth-largest moon in the Solar System, about one-twentieth the mass of the Earth's Moon. The orbits of the regular moons are nearly coplanar with Uranus's equator, which is tilted 97.77° to its orbit. Uranus's irregular moons have elliptical and strongly inclined orbits at large distances from the planet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Moons of Neptune</span> Natural satellites of the planet Neptune

The planet Neptune has 14 known moons, which are named for minor water deities in Greek mythology. By far the largest of them is Triton, discovered by William Lassell on October 10, 1846, 17 days after the discovery of Neptune itself; over a century passed before the discovery of the second natural satellite, Nereid. Neptune's outermost moon Neso, which has an orbital period of about 26 Julian years, orbits farther from its planet than any other moon in the Solar System.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rings of Neptune</span> Rings of the planet Neptune

The rings of Neptune consist primarily of five principal rings. They were first discovered by simultaneous observations of a stellar occultation on 22 July 1984 by André Brahic's and William Hubbard's teams at La Silla Observatory (ESO) and at Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatoryin Chile. They were eventually imaged in 1989 by the Voyager 2 spacecraft. At their densest, they are comparable to the less dense portions of Saturn's main rings such as the C ring and the Cassini Division, but much of Neptune's ring system is quite tenuous, faint and dusty, more closely resembling the rings of Jupiter. Neptune's rings are named after astronomers who contributed important work on the planet: Galle, Le Verrier, Lassell, Arago, and Adams. Neptune also has a faint unnamed ring coincident with the orbit of the moon Galatea. Three other moons orbit between the rings: Naiad, Thalassa and Despina.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Exploration of Neptune</span> Overview of the exploration of Neptune

Neptune has been directly explored by one space probe, Voyager 2, in 1989. As of August 2022, there are no confirmed future missions to visit the Neptunian system, although a tentative Chinese mission has been planned for launch in 2024. NASA, ESA, and independent academic groups have proposed future scientific missions to visit Neptune. Some mission plans are still active, while others have been abandoned or put on hold.

The atmosphere of Triton is the layer of gases surrounding Triton. The surface pressure is only 14 microbars, 170000 of the surface pressure on Earth, and it is composed of nitrogen, similar to those of Titan and Earth. It extends 800 kilometers above its surface. Observations obtained in 1998 showed an increase in temperature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Neptune</span> Eighth planet from the Sun

Neptune is the eighth planet from the Sun and the farthest known planet in the Solar System. It is the fourth-largest planet in the Solar System by diameter, the third-most-massive planet, and the densest giant planet. It is 17 times the mass of Earth, and slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus. Neptune is denser and physically smaller than Uranus because its greater mass causes more gravitational compression of its atmosphere. It is referred to as one of the solar system's two ice giant planets. Being composed primarily of gases and liquids, it has no well-defined "solid surface". The planet orbits the Sun once every 164.8 years at an average distance of 30.1 AU. It is named after the Roman god of the sea and has the astronomical symbol , representing Neptune's trident.

Planetary oceanography also called exo-oceanography is the study of oceans on planets and moons other than Earth. Unlike other planetary sciences like astrobiology, astrochemistry and planetary geology, it only began after the discovery of underground oceans in Saturn's moon Titan and Jupiter's moon Europa. This field remains speculative until further missions reach the oceans beneath the rock or ice layer of the moons. There are many theories about oceans or even ocean worlds of celestial bodies in the Solar System, from oceans made of diamond in Neptune to a gigantic ocean of liquid hydrogen that may exist underneath Jupiter's surface.


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