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Triton

Triton is by far the largest of the planet Neptune’s thirteen known moons. It was discovered by a wealthy brewery business owner and amateur astronomer William Lassell. He was one of England’s premier amateur astronomers of the 19th century, and used money from his brewery business to finance the expensive telescopes necessary to participate in his hobby much as adults today become involved in costly extra-career endeavors. He spotted Triton through one of these telescopes just days after Neptune’s official discovery in 1846. He also spotted a faint ring around the planet which was proven to be an optical illusion caused by a distortion in the lens of his telescope. While Neptune does have rings around it, they are far too faint for Lassell to have actually seen them.

Satellites, or moons, of Neptune are all named for minor mythological Greek sea gods or nymphs. Triton was the son of the Greek sea god, Poseidon (counterpart to the Roman sea god, Neptune). It has the unique distinction of being the only large moon in the solar system that orbits its planet in the opposite direction of that planet’s rotation. This is called a retrograde orbit. One side of Triton faces the planet Neptune at all times. This is called a synchronous rotation and is like the rotation of Earth’s moon. The orbit of this large satellite is close to the shape of a perfect circle with almost no elliptical peculiarities.

It is theorized that Triton may have one been a comet or asteroid that was captured by the gravitational pull of Neptune. The gravitational pull of its planet slows down its orbit, dragging it ever closer to it. Perhaps millions of years from now, its orbit will become so close to Neptune that the strong gravitational forces will break it apart to form yet another ring around the planet.

Triton’s surface is made up of frozen Nitrogen over an icy layer that is thought to cover a core of rock and metal. It is one of the coldest objects in the solar system at approximately -400 degrees Fahrenheit. When our exploratory spacecrafts passed Triton, it was discovered that the moon has many active geysers on its surface – possibly consisting of liquid Nitrogen. This activity is caused by the sun’s heat hitting the moon at seasonal intervals in the year. It is one of the few moons in the solar system with such activity.

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