NASA has proposed a mission to explore Neptune’s mysterious and “strange” moon Triton, the coldest known object in the solar system.
In a statement posted on its website, the space agency said the mission, known as Trident, will have a “triple” approach. The mission will look at the celestial satellite to understand the cause of the mysterious feathers emanating from its surface, will further explore the moon, which was only observed 40 percent by Voyager 2, and “understand how that mysterious surface is renewed. to herself”.
“Triton is strange, but it is still strangely relevant, due to the science we can do there,” Karl Mitchell, a Trident project scientist at JPL, said in a statement. “We know that the surface has all these characteristics that we have never seen before, which motivates us to want to know ‘How does this world work?’
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“As we told NASA in our mission proposal, Triton is not just a key to the science of the solar system: it is a complete keychain: a captured Kuiper Belt object that evolved, a potential ocean world with active columns, a energetic ionosphere and a young, unique surface, “added Mitchell.
Four missions with a possible launch date of October 2025 are currently being studied to take advantage of the once-in-13-year window that Earth has properly aligned with Jupiter. The spacecraft would use Jupiter’s gravitational pull to send it to Triton for a 13-day mission in 2038.
“Mission designers and browsers are very good at this,” said William Frazier of JPL, project systems engineer for Trident. “After 13 years of flying through the solar system, we can confidently glide over the upper edge of Triton’s atmosphere, which is quite mind-blowing.”
Triton has several oddities compared to other celestial objects, including the orbit in the opposite direction, which is at an extreme tilt, and the fact that it probably moved from the Kuiper belt.
It also has a constantly evolving climate and a strange atmosphere. Its ionosphere is 10 times more active than other moons in the solar system, a trait that NASA describes as “especially strange” because solar particles charge ionospheres.
By studying and observing Triton’s “strange” behavior, it could give researchers a new look at the objects in the Kuiper Belt, as well as a better understanding of the solar system.
“Triton has always been one of the most exciting and intriguing bodies in the solar system,” said Louise Prockter, director of the Lunar Institute and Planetary / Space Research Association of Universities in Houston. “I’ve always loved Voyager 2 images and glimpses of this strange and crazy moon that no one understands.”
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In April 2019, NASA announced that almost 30 years after sending a spacecraft to Uranus and Neptune, it is looking to return.
A month earlier, NASA JPL scientists proposed a mission that would explore Triton, which some have theorized could have an ocean hidden beneath its surface.
Uranus and Neptune are relatively unexplored, despite Voyager 2 taking photos of both planets in 1986 and 1989, respectively.
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