Athena Huynh and Christopher Hogan

Athena Huynh and Christopher Hogan

Grade: 8

School: St Joseph Catholic School

Teacher: Sherri Durant

City: Richardson, Texas

Topic: Triton

Neptune’s Icy Satellite

"In 1989, Voyager 2 flew by Neptune’s largest moon and sent back close-up, detailed pictures of the icy, natural satellite. Triton’s structure is like no other, including a surface similar to a cantaloupe and many other intriguing attributes. Revisiting this moon would provide further knowledge on how geologically active moons behave. Unlike multiple other moons, Triton has a thin atmosphere; observing the differences between Earth’s atmosphere and Triton’s would inform NASA how atmospheres correlate to the certain moon or planet’s environmental conditions. If NASA desires to be informed about interstellar space exploration, then the organization must reexplore Triton.

Artist's view of Voyager 2 at Triton
In 1846, William Lassell, a 19th-century English merchant and astronomer, discovered Neptune’s largest moon Triton. Over a century later, the world was finally able to see photographs of the moon’s strange surface. NASA scientists described the landscape as commensurate to the skin of a cantaloupe. Although Triton may seem like a dense ball of complete ice due to its surface, this glacial natural satellite has a core of rock and metal. Of any other natural satellite in the solar system, Triton is, by far, the densest. The moon’s high level of density insinuates that Triton contains more rock in its core than all the other icebound moons of Saturn and Uranus. The subzero temperatures on this moon triggers the nitrogen in its atmosphere to crystallize giving the moon a shiny surface that mirrors 70% of the sunlight that hits its surface.

Unlike many other planets and natural satellites of the solar system, Triton is geologically active and has numerous geysers, volcanoes, and tectonics. Triton is one of less than ten geologically active planetoids in the solar system, meaning revisiting this moon could give us a rare close look at what happens on a satellite like Triton. Unlike the geysers on Earth, Triton’s geysers erupt nitrogen gases back into the atmosphere. Even though Triton is more than one billion miles away from the sun and has a frozen exterior, this celestial body must have a heated center. Without a heating element, Triton’s geysers would not be able to erupt. Additionally, though this may seem unusual to some, Triton has volcanoes that spew ice. All the built-up nitrogen gasses rise to the surface carrying ice and other particles from the planet’s interior causing this amazing outburst.

Triton has a thin atmosphere, a rarity among moons. Similar to Earth’s atmosphere, Triton’s is composed mostly of nitrogen. Since Triton has an atmosphere, more than likely there is wind on the moon's surface. At sea level, Triton's atmospheric pressure is less than 1/70,000 of Earth’s. Triton’s gravitational pull is so tenuous that a 120-lb person would weigh only about nine pounds.
All in all, going back to Triton would give the world a better understanding of how the universe works. No other moon is like this. Reexploring Triton would be like discovering a new world with an infinite amount of possibilities."

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