Twenty-five years ago NASA’s Voyager 2 flew by Triton, giving us the first clear look at Neptune’s largest moon, and Lunar and Planetary Institute scientist Paul Schenk has ‘restored’ the images and turned them into an awesome new video in time for the anniversary.
Voyager-2 flyby only got to see half of Triton
Because Triton rotates fairly slowly and Voyager 2 was zipping past, we only get a good look at about half of the moon, the rest being covered in darkness, but the video still recreates what it must have ‘looked’ like to do an interplanetary flyby. The colors recorded by Voyager 2 have been altered both to increase their contrast and to adjust for how the moon would appear to human eyes, but NASA says that the map and video are close approximations to Triton’s natural colors. The images have also been updated by getting rid of some of the blurriness and improving the accuracy of some of the feature locations. The last improvement sounds odd, but it probably just means that newer measurements have been used to do a better job of constructing images out of Voyager 2 data. NASA also said that the images have a resolution of 1,970 feet per pixel.
Comparing Neptune’s irregular moon with Pluto
While there are plenty of differences between them, NASA researchers also reworked the old Triton data in anticipation of New Horizon’s trip past Pluto next year, which will also be a quick flyby. As one of Neptune’s irregular moons, with a retrograde orbit that doesn’t run along Neptune’s equator, Triton is thought to have been captured by Neptune instead of developing along with it.
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Its probable origins in the outer solar system mean that Triton and Pluto have a lot of the same characteristics including similar size (Triton is larger), density, and surface composition. Relating their current differences to their very different histories should give astronomers plenty of new data to work on as they try to better understand planetary formation and evolution. One of the biggest questions that scientists hope to answer is whether Pluto has an atmosphere. If it doesn’t, figuring out the difference between the dwarf planet and Triton, which does have an atmosphere, will be an interesting problem to work on.