Triton is Neptune’s largest moon, and images of Triton captured during the Voyager 2 flyby in 1989 captivated the attention of planetary scientists so much that interest in returning to Triton for follow-up studies continues to this very day.
As for what makes Triton so interesting, planetary scientists note that the small number of impact craters on its surface indicate that it’s still very young. Moreover, features on Triton’s surface suggest that it harbors a sub-surface ocean with potentially-habitable conditions for alien life.
Planetary scientists are foaming at the mouth for a chance to revisit Triton, and this time with modern technology that can capture more explicit photographs and gather more detailed information about this mysterious world. Opportunities seem to be few and far in between, chiefly because planetary scientists want to take advantage of planetary alignments to slingshot around Jupiter in a common maneuver dubbed a gravity assist.
One such mission proposal is Trident, a spacecraft that would launch in 2025 and arrive at Trident sometime in 2038. Trident would give planetary scientists the closest look at Triton’s surface yet and provide a detailed surface map of Triton the likes of which we’ve never seen before. It would also carry specialized instruments to determine whether there’s a subsurface ocean and to study the world’s atmospheric conditions, among other things.
Trident is very much still in its proposal stages, but it should be interesting to see if it reaches fruition. After all, a unique planetary alignment coming up in just a few more years makes a mission like this highly feasible.