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Triton's geysers: solar-powered scenario.

Triton's geysers: Solar-powered scenario

A likely candidate for Voyager 2's most dramatic finding when the spacecraft flew past Neptune's big moon Triton last year was the discovery in a few photos of dark streaks rising straight up from Triton's surface--apparently geysers of nitrogen. At the time, Laurence A. Soderblom of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Flagstaff, Ariz., suggested the plumes might be driven by dark surface material absorbing heat from the sun (SN: 9/2/89, p. 148). Scientists have since sought to understand the details of such a mechanism.

If the sun indeed provides the heat, says Randolph L. Kirk of the USGS in Flagstaff, the geysers "must have a very efficient means of transporting energy from a large collector region to a much smaller geyser source area." One possibility, he says, may be that nitrogen gas flows through a porous layer beneath darkened areas on the surface. Kirk notes that such a layer may not be very permeable, but he suggests the process could be enhanced by cracks due to temperature changes as Triton's orbit takes it nearer and farther from the sun.

In addition, Kirk says, "despite the efficiency of the gas in transporting heat away, a reservoir at the required temperature can be established under a collector of modest size (a few kilometers in radius), provided the permeable layer is relatively thin." Some such mechanism seems likely, he says, since a deposit of solid nitrogen probably cannot get energy fast enough from nitrogen in a gaseous state to drive geysers as powerful as those in the Voyager photos.
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Title Annotation:Neptune's moon
Author:Eberhart, Jonathan
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 24, 1990
Previous Article:Meteorites from the moon's lava plains.
Next Article:Biomass burning ignites concern.

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