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Neptune's moon Triton is one of the strangest worlds in the solar system — and that's why scientists are exploring mission concepts that could give them a detailed look at it.
It's a large moon, the seventh largest in our solar system, and scientists think it was born in the Kuiper Belt before falling into its current location in orbit around the most distant planet. But that journey took its toll on Triton: Neptune's gravity pulls on it so strongly that the moon's icy surface may hide a subsurface liquid ocean. And the glimpse Voyager 2 offered of its surface suggests that Triton was geologically active as recently as 10 million years ago.
Magic - Word - Triton - Louise - Procktor
"They said the magic word, Triton, and I said, where do I sign up?" Louise Procktor, a planetary geologist and director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Texas and a scientist working on a mission concept called Trident, told Space.com. "We know enough [about Triton] to be dangerous. We know a little bit about it, but there's so much we don't know."
And of course, the best way to learn more about any object in the solar system is to visit it. Within the constraints of just a flyby mission launching in 2025 and arriving in 2038, Procktor and her colleagues believe they can photograph the moon's entire surface in a single pass.
Trick - Way - Triton - Spacecraft - Flight
That would happen through a careful trick. On its way past Triton, the spacecraft's flight would be timed in order to see in sunlight the 60 percent or so of its surface that Voyager 2 couldn't see. After the initial approach, the spacecraft would turn its camera back to recapture the 40 percent of the surface Voyager already imaged, this time in the faint light reflected off the planet, called Neptune-shine.
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