Triton's Distorted Atmosphere

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Science  17 Oct 1997:
Vol. 278, Issue 5337, pp. 436-439
DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5337.436

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A stellar-occultation light curve for Triton shows asymmetry that can be understood if Triton's middle atmosphere is distorted from spherical symmetry. Although a globally oblate model can explain the data, the inferred atmospheric flattening is so large that it could be caused only by an unrealistic internal mass distribution or highly supersonic zonal winds. Cyclostrophic winds confined to a jet near Triton's northern or southern limbs (or both) could also be responsible for the details of the light curve, but such winds are required to be slightly supersonic. Hazes and clouds in the atmosphere are unlikely to have caused the asymmetry in the light curve.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed at the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Building 54-422, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139–4307, USA. E-mail: jle{at}

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