New Horizons probe observes Neptune's moon Triton from afar

Friday, March 20, 2009

An image taken in October last year by the New Horizons probe (the one making its way to Pluto) of Neptune and its moon Triton was released about a week ago here, showing some of the other tasks New Horizons is capable of besides just observing Pluto when it flies by. From its far out vantage point it's able to observe objects from a different angle than we can here on Earth, and as you can see here it's also a bit closer to Neptune as well:

New Horizons was 3.75 billion kilometers from Neptune on Oct. 16, when LORRI, following a programmed sequence of commands, locked onto the planet and snapped away.

For comparison, the minimum distance between Earth and Neptune is 4.3 billion km.

And as for why Triton is so interesting:
Triton is only slightly larger than Pluto (2,700 kilometers in diameter compared to Pluto’s 2,400 kilometers). Both objects have atmospheres primarily composed of nitrogen gas with a surface pressure only 1/70,000th of Earth’s, and comparably cold surface temperatures (-235° C on Triton and -220° C on Pluto). Triton is widely believed to have once been a member of the Kuiper Belt (as Pluto still is) that was captured into orbit around Neptune, probably during a collision early in the solar system’s history.


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