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Triton's Ice Doesn't Mix

2 Oct 2009, 21:51 UTC
Triton's Ice Doesn't Mix
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Content prepared in collaboration with Discovery Space partner Lowell Observatory.

Triton is a mysterious world. Orbiting the gas giant Neptune, the planet's biggest moon was imaged up-close for the first time during Voyager 2's flyby of the outer reaches of the Solar System in 1989. Since then, no other robotic explorer has strayed close enough to catch a glimpse.

What makes Triton an interesting moon for me is the fact that it wasn't born from Neptune's debris disk when the planet was forming; Triton was kidnapped from the Kuiper Belt. Neptune is a gravitational bully, stirring up the Kuiper Belt population, nudging Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) into "resonances". However, Triton wasn't nudged, it was plucked from this icy region of asteroids and dwarf planets to become the oddball of Neptune's moon system.

Triton, if it wasn't the victim of planetary abduction, is actually an impressively-sized world itself. With a diameter of 2700 km (1680 miles), the is 40% larger than Pluto! It also orbits Neptune the wrong way, its retrograde orbit an obvious sign that it doesn't really belong there.

As one would expect with such a distant moon, it is actually rather icy, and planetary scientists and astronomers have ...

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