Shaina Pranjivan

Contest: 2019-20

Shaina Pranjivan

School: Parktown High School For Girls

Grade: 9

Teacher: Ms N Govender

City: Johannesburg

Topic: Triton

I am convinced that Triton is one of the most incredible and promising places in the entire solar system to look for signs of life. Apart from Voyager 2’s flyby in 1989, no other mission has been directed at the outer Solar System. I believe it is time we do so because we may find signs of extra-terrestrial life, which will be the greatest discovery in the history of space exploration.

Triton is the coldest known object in the solar system at about -300 degrees Celsius - definitely not a place fit for humans. However, it could have the potential to support some other life forms that can survive in extreme sub-zero conditions. Think about Earth: we have many sea creatures that survive in the frigid conditions at the poles so why can’t this be possible on Triton?

Artist's view of Voyager 2 at Triton
For life to exist we need three basic elements, namely, water, energy and organic molecules. We are not absolutely sure if Triton has these elements but given the information we have, it is highly possible.

Like Earth, Triton’s atmosphere is primarily made up of nitrogen and traces of methane however on Triton these gases are frozen. Triton’s surface also shows deposits of Tholins which are organic compounds that may be precursor chemicals to the origin of life. Scientists don’t think Triton has any oxygen present but Earth also had little to no oxygen present during the early ages.

x An ocean beneath would suggest that water is present and we know that in order for there to be water, hydrogen and oxygen atoms would have to be present. This would mean that Triton has a source of oxygen in order to support life as we know it. Keep in mind, various chemical reactions could also create different gasses which could support some kind of life form that we have not yet seen on other planets or moons.

Another extremely interesting fact is that Triton is geologically active and has many ice- volcanoes and geysers which shoot out nitrogen, dust and other chemicals containing methane. This is surprising because it is so far from the sun which makes it cold and dark. Scientists wouldn’t expect the core of Triton to still be producing heat and energy to shoot out these chemicals. Triton is only one of four bodies that have these plumes, along with Earth, Io and Enceladus. The black material ejected is suspected to contain organic compounds.

If we have the three elements to sustain life namely organic molecules, water (underground ocean) and energy (geysers), this could mean that Triton is capable of supporting some life form.

Triton has so many unanswered questions and wondrous possibilities. Therefore, I think it is imperative that NASA invests money into exploring Triton and the outer solar system further."

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