We now have a gorgeous new map, and accompanying video, of Neptune moon Triton, thanks to the hard work of scientist Paul Schenk at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston who restored footage from a 1989 flyby of the celestial body taken by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft.
In 1989, we didn't have the imaging technology on spacecraft that we have today, so the images were often blurry and didn't contain a lot of detail. However, this new enhanced map of Triton has a resolution of almost 2,000 feet per pixel. Although the images from Voyager 2 did require color enhancements, they are still close to the natural colors of the moon. The accompanying video compresses Voyager 2's 10-day visit to the moon into a little over one minute.
Scientists were surprised by the images that Voyager 2 delivered of Triton in 1989.
"Triton, whose surface may be younger than a few million years and may be geologically active today, is one of the most fascinating bodies on the Solar System," writes Schenk on his blog. "Its maximum surface temperature is only 35 degrees above absolute zero, and yet volcanoes and geysers have remade its surface, possibly within the lifetime of the human species."
Schenk also suggests that his new interactive map of Triton could easily work with Google Maps, such as what's already available for Earth's moon and Mars.
The Triton map is part of NASA's preparations for another mission, New Horizons, which will encounter Pluto in about a year. Both Triton and Pluto originated in the outer edges of the solar system and both have similar compositions. Both are also slightly smaller than Earth's moon.
However, Triton's history is completely different from Pluto's. Scientists believe that Triton's interior is being heated by tidal forces, which produces volcanoes and fractures on its surface.
Understanding Triton, though, gives us an idea of what Pluto might look like. Both planets have an icy crust, and scientists believe that Pluto could have volcanoes underneath that, like Triton. Because of their locations and where they originated, both have seen similar stresses from their environment.
However, until New Horizon flies by Pluto next year, the dwarf planet is still very much a mystery.
"What will we see at Pluto?" writes Schenk. "Guesses have ranged from active geology to cold and cratered, so we are in for a suspenseful summer next year!"