Neptune’s moon has surface level activity indicative of organic compounds and sub-surface oceans. Triton is an extremely unique, albeit often forgotten moon.
Triton is an extremely unique, albeit often forgotten moon when compared to the likes of Io and Europa. Due to it being Neptune’s moon, it is far enough away in the solar system that we’ve never been able to spend to resources necessary to explore it to its fullest potential. Triton has only been closely observed once — by Voyager 2 when it was flying by back in 1989. So what did this reveal about this moon?
To start, let’s understand where Triton fits in our solar system. It is the largest of Neptune’s 14 known moons, and it’s considered an irregular moon, meaning it orbits the planet in a weird retrograde shape. What is unique about this moon is, unlike the other larger moons in our solar system — orbiting the same direction as their parent planet — Triton orbits counterclockwise as Neptune orbits clockwise. This means that Triton was most likely not formed alongside Neptune, but rather was an object flying through space which got caught in Neptune’s orbit. Now what this object exactly is may surprise you, as it isn’t actually a moon, it’s a dwarf planet slightly larger than Pluto, captured from the Kuiper Belt.
“We’re just learning that a lot of planets are small planets, and we didn’t know before, fact is, in planetary science, objects such as Pluto and other dwarf planets from the Kuiper Belt are considered planets, and called planets in everyday discourse in scientific meetings” ~Alan Stern, American Engineer
So how exactly was Triton captured? To capture an object and have it begin orbiting a planet, it needs to lose momentum. We don’t know for certain what caused Triton to lose momentum, but the leading theory is that Triton was once part of a binary system, like Pluto and Charon, and upon approaching Neptune, the gravitational force caused the system to break apart, with Triton’s moon being sent away and Triton losing enough momentum to be captured.
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