Scatterers in Triton's Atmosphere: Implications for the Seasonal Volatile Cycle

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Science  19 Oct 1990:
Vol. 250, Issue 4979, pp. 440-443
DOI: 10.1126/science.250.4979.440


Nitrogen and methane ices on the surface of Triton, Neptune's largest satellite, are exchanged between the summer and winter hemispheres on a seasonal time scale. Images of the satellite's sky obtained by the Voyager 2 spacecraft show the presence of several types of scattering materials that provide insights into this seasonal cycle of volatiles. Discrete clouds, probably composed of N2 ice particles, arise in regions of active sublimation. They are found chiefly poleward of 30°S in the southern, summer hemisphere. Haze particles, probably made of hydrocarbon ices, are present above most, but not all places. Recent snowfall may have occurred at low southern latitudes in places where they are absent. The latent heat released in the formation of the discrete clouds may have a major impact on the thermal balance of the lower atmosphere. Triton may have been less red at the time of the Voyager flyby than 12 years earlier due to recent N2 snowfall at a wide range of latitudes.

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