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We now offer the Cool It! card game in our Science Store. Cool It! is the new card game from UCS that teaches kids about the choices we have when it comes to climate change.
This picture shows geysers near Triton's South Pole. The geysers shoot dark material high into Triton's atmosphere. This dark plume settles back down to Triton's surface. Scientists think we can tell which way the wind blows on Triton because of this! Do you see how the geyser plumes point from lower-left towards upper-right in this picture?
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy NASA/JPL/USGS.

The Atmosphere of Triton

Triton is the largest moon of Neptune. It isn't quite as big as Earth's Moon. The surface of Triton is very, very cold. It is colder than the surface of any other planet or moon in our Solar System. It is so cold on Triton that almost everything freezes, even gases. That's why it is surprising that Triton has an atmosphere.

Triton's atmosphere is very, very thin. The air pressure on Earth is more than 50,000 times higher than on Triton! Most of the air on Triton is the gas nitrogen... just like on Earth! Most of the nitrogen on Triton is frozen. It is on the ground in the form of frost. Some of the nitrogen frost warmed up just a little and evaporated. That's what makes Triton's thin atmosphere.

Triton also has several ice geysers near its South Pole. The geysers shoot nitrogen, dust, and chemicals containing methane high into the atmosphere. Triton has clouds of nitrogen ice particles in the lower parts of its atmosphere. There is also a haze layer which forms when sunlight hits methane molecules in Triton's air.

There are dark areas on the ground near several geysers. Scientists think winds blew the dark materials from the geysers in that direction. So it seems like Triton has winds!

Earth's atmosphere has layers, and so does Triton's. Triton's atmosphere has a troposphere, a thermosphere and an exosphere. The top of the atmosphere is about 800 km (500 miles) above Triton's surface.

Last modified July 13, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA