Annabel Peltzer

Annabel Peltzer

Grade: 10

Homeschooled

City: Laveen, Arizona

Topic: Triton


"Throughout the history of human presence in space, scientists and explorers have learned to expect the unexpected and reformulate their understandings of the universe due to new discoveries made as we push the boundaries of our solar system. To continue our endeavors and build upon Voyager Two’s legacy, NASA must prioritize sending Trident to Neptune’s largest moon Triton, a destination rich in astrobiology research opportunities and a beacon for potential life forms. Additionally, Trident will fulfill NASA’s Strategic Plan Framework: discovery, exploration, development, and enablement through the continuation of space exploration, innovation, and the search for extra-terrestrial life.

Artist's view of Voyager 2 at Triton
Voyager’s tantalizing photos of Triton clearly revealed just one hemisphere during its flyby. It’s time we collect more data of the surface. Triton is an exciting target to learn how habitable worlds develop and are sustained in our solar system and others. The Voyager photos suggest that Triton’s origins lie in the Kuiper Belt and was captured by Neptune’s gravity, pulling it into a retrograde orbit—a singular phenomenon in the solar system. During this event, Triton may have experienced tidal heating as it developed an ammonia-rich liquid water (NH3), subsurface ocean, increasing Triton’s hospitability to the building blocks of life. Additionally, while icy surfaces and rocky cores are commonly found throughout the solar system, Triton’s constant cryovolcanic, geological activity is rare amongst moons and suggests that its geysers broke past the terrain, giving potential visible evidence of a subsurface ocean. Because Voyager’s limited spatial resolution prevents us from unraveling Triton’s geological history, Trident is critical to providing insights regarding the interior composition, Kuiper Belt Objects such as Triton’s twin Pluto, and challenging our present criteria for finding life.

To return to Triton, NASA must prioritize the mission due to a favorable gravity-assist opportunity via Jupiter in 2026 that won’t occur again until 2038. NASA has the technology and business partnership capabilities to enable a successful mission. In addition to using a plutonium power source, speedy trajectory boost, and magnetometer to determine a subsurface ocean on Triton, Trident proposes a collaboration with Ball Aerospace for vehicle design along with various international partners to achieve an economically-feasible, commercially-integrated mission. Trident also meets NASA’s Roadmap to Ocean Worlds standards, and it was deemed the, “highest priority target to address as part of an Ocean Worlds program.” ROW believes that Triton’s geological activity, coupled with its young surface, makes the investigation of an endogenic source important.

Triton has abundant possibilities for scientific breakthroughs. In Greek mythology, Triton means God of the Sea. It’s fitting to study whether a liquid, subsurface ocean exists in the furthest reaches of our solar system which could expand our search parameters for life. Louise Prockter, principal investigator of Trident, stated that the mission, “will answer fundamental questions, such as whether a captured world can be an ocean world, how icy worlds evolve and why Triton might be active today.” Voyager 2 paved the way for Triton and we’re ready to launch Trident to rendezvous with Triton."

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