In the next five years, NASA can send a spacecraft to a strange satellite of Neptune — Triton, to learn more about this mysterious body.
Triton — a very unusual companion. The astronomers closely observed it only once, when the spacecraft flew past Neptune 30 years ago. Then, in 1989, Voyager 2 was able to make mysterious images of the satellite. In the pictures, scientists noticed a huge ice plumes rising from the surface, which was similar to the geysers. However, to understand their nature, the researchers are unable. Also data on the Triton showed that at this distant satellite may still be some activity. Given that the moon of Neptune is very far from the Sun, scientists want to understand how this is possible.
“Triton has always been one of the most exciting and intriguing bodies in the Solar system. I have always admired the images of Voyager 2, and the footage [of the Triton] tease her quirkiness that no one understands,” says Louise Procter, principal investigator the future of the mission.
But the images of thirty years ago not only the strangeness of the Triton. The orbit of the satellite is also full of surprises. First, Triton is the only large satellite in a retrograde movement. He moves in an orbit in the direction opposite to the rotation of Neptune, under a strong inclination to the planes of the Ecliptic and the equator of the planet. These features of the motion induces scientists to believe that Triton originated in the Kuiper belt as a separate celestial body, and later Neptune it just “captured”. Also, scientists say that the shape of the satellite’s orbit is a nearly perfect circle.
With such a “set” features no wonder the astronomers want to study the Triton in more detail. “As we said in our NASA description of the mission, Triton is not just a key to the enigmas of the Solar system is a “bunch of keys”. New mission will help you learn more about the features of the object that is captured by the Kuiper belt, which has a potential water world, with active plumes, energetic ionosphere and the young, unique surface”, comment the authors of the new work.
Now NASA is considering an option in which the mission will be launched in October 2025. The space Agency explains that during this time the Earth is aligned with Jupiter, this event occurs only every 13 years. This would allow the spacecraft to use the gravity of Jupiter to fly to the Triton. Thus, he will arrive to the satellite only in 2038.