Image of Titan’s moon Triton captured by Voyager 2 spacecraft Image: NASA / JPL / USGS
Only one ship has passed over Neptune in history. It was Voyager 2, which made us ask ourselves many questions about the frozen planet and one of its moons: Triton on its long journey to the far reaches of the Solar System. Now, 30 years later, NASA plans to send a mission to this distant moon with the intention of unraveling the mysteries hidden on its surface.
When Voyager two flew over Triton, it captured images in which several columns of frozen material could be seen emerging from its surface. That meant that this frozen material was « young » and that it renewed itself over time, so it left a big question in the air: how is it possible that a moon so old and so far from the Sun is still active? Does that mean that there is some geological mechanism inside that keeps these processes active?
NASA believes that below the surface of Triton there is a liquid ocean that could be the origin of all this, and it is willing to send a probe to this moon to find out.
Currently, there are several teams developing conceptual models for the Trident mission, which is the name by which this foray into Triton has been named. The idea is to launch the probe in October 2025, when Earth is aligned with Jupiter and can take advantage of its gravitational pull to be able to head towards Neptune.
In addition, Tritón has other peculiarities that will make it a fascinating study object. For example, it is the only large moon in the Solar System that orbits in the opposite direction than your planet; and its strange ionosphere is 10 times more active than that of any other moon in our environment, which is very curious because the ionospheres are charged by solar energy, and Neptune is very far from our sun. It will be incredible to be able to study a fascinating corner of our Solar System more closely.