Adela-Nicole Prodan-Hora

Adela-Nicole Prodan-Hora

School: ”Ion Luca Caragiale” National High School

City: Bucharest

Topic: Triton

Shall we visit Triton once again?

"A most intriguing discovery which triggered the scientists‘ interest has been reported during Voyager’s 2 flyby near Neptune. The spacecraft managed to quickly scan some of Neptune’s natural satellites and got intriguing information, especially about Neptune’s largest moon - Triton.

Among them, Triton seems to be the most eligible planet for the occurrence of life, having potential for habitability due of its subterranean ocean which might be capable of hosting molecular life.

Artist's rendering of Voyager 2 and Triton
A significant similarity between Triton and Terra is that both celestial bodies have water and an atmosphere. Triton’s core is composed mainly of metal and rock, while its surface has in its composition 55% nitrogen, around 10-20% carbon dioxide, and 35% is speculated to be water! Furthermore, although Triton always faces Neptune with only one side, the moon’s poles manage to take turns closer to the Sun. This action leads to the creation of hotter and colder seasons. Therefore, the nitrogen in Triton’s atmosphere and surface begins to crystallize, creating a mirroring effect. Thus, it reflects almost 70% of the Sun’s light, causing a low average temperature, around -235°C. Nevertheless, microorganisms might be able to live at such low temperatures, like the creatures that live under the ice at Earth’s North pole.

Further, Triton is one of the few natural satellites of our solar system with high geological activity. The geothermal heating from the limit between the core and mantle leads to cryovolcanism, where water ammonia and nitrogen gas burst forth from the surface instead of liquid rock. Also, Triton’s large rocky interior is radioactive enough to power convection in the mantle, which may even be sufficient to maintain a subterranean ocean, a warm-water ocean hintingat presence of life beneath the icy crusts.

The presence of these cryovolcanic plumes is a compeling target for further exploration.

First of all, the construction of some machines, with the help of which we can enter the vast subsurface ocean through geysers, could help us to determine its composition and whether the ocean interacts with the surface environment.

Secondly, the plumes could be an efficient way to generate power for a future human space station on Triton, which could be a gateway for further missions.

Thirdly, Triton is believed to come from the Kuiper belt, so known as the ”limit of knowledge”, because no man-made object has reached further. So, Triton is our best chance to find out more about the primordial matter, from which it is formed.

But along with the good news, bad news come as well. Because of the moon’s retrograde orbit, there is a high risk that Triton might be torn apart in some million years.

Taking into account humankind's quick progress, I am confident that people will soon be able to design some space crafts capable of exploring Triton and setting up a new research station."

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