Triton, Neptune’s Largest Moon, Presents A Rare Phenomenon

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A team of researchers surveyed Triton, Neptune’s largest moon with the help of the Gemini Observatory. The researchers observed a remarkable interaction between the carbon monoxide and nitrogen ices. The new information could allow researchers to learn more about how this mixture can transport material across the lunar surface by using geysers. It can also activate seasonal atmospheric changes and provide more information about other icy worlds.

In most case, specific conditions will lead to impressive results. A part of the study focuses on the strange pairing between two common molecules in the form of carbon monoxide (also known as CO) and nitrogen (N2) which are present in the form of sturdy ices on the surface. During laboratory tests, the researchers found out that a specific wavelength of infrared light is consumed by the ice when the two molecules are united and begin to vibrate together. When they are alone, each of the molecules can absorb a specific set of infrared light.

Scientists observed a rare phenomenon on Triton, Neptun’s largest moon

The unique infrared signature which appears when the two particles vibrate in tandem has been spotted with the Gemini South Telescope. A special took called IGRINS (Immersion Grating Infrared Spectrometer) played an important role in the study. The instrument is the result of a collaboration between the University of Texas and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institue. According to the lead researcher, the ice pattern found on the surface of Triton was anticipated by the researchers. However, the major surprise came in the form of the specific wavelength of infrared light, which was identified during the survey.

In the case of Earth, carbon monoxide and nitrogen, molecules can be encountered as gases instead of ice. It is well-known that molecular nitrogen dominates the air we breathe while carbon monoxide is a dangerous byproduct of some processes. It is expected that the results of this study could allow researchers to learn more about the structure of ice and the specific changes in the atmosphere which take place on other frigid worlds.


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