As scientific knowledge progressed over the centuries, our understanding of the earth and the universe has become more and more clear like a lens coming into focus. In the beginning, to quote a famous book, things were cloudy, dark and mysterious. Science, although not having all of the answers has shed a bright light on a great many things. It has helped usher in the age of Enlightenment and brought about all sorts of advances in philosophy, technology, medicine and more. In fact, some of the most fascinating scientific advances have been made in space exploration and astronomy. These advances have educated us about how our own solar system works and how unique it is.
In the western world it was once thought that Atlas, a giant, held up the sky or that a large tortoise was holding up the earth. In some ancient Mesopotamian and Indian cultures it was thought that the earth and sky were created from the blood of a goddess that had been killed and dismembered. Later it was thought that the earth was the center of the universe and that even the sun revolved around it. Although we know now that this is false, the heliocentric solar system was a far progression from the mythic view that ancient peoples once had.
Science has helped Man make further innovations and leaps of knowledge in our understanding of the solar system. With powerful telescopes, cameras, probes, orbiters, a sense of adventure and a desire for discovery we’ve gone from grand myths revolving around our planet to understanding that there are other planets that revolve around the sun along with the earth. Some of those planets have moons, some don’t. Some are similar to earth in mass and size and others are closer to failed stars, with no discernible surface, like Jupiter. We know that there are moons in the solar system that behave like planets. We have also found volcanic activity, oceans, geysers and powerful storms on moons and planets in our solar system.
Let’s take a closer look at just one of these fascinating objects within the solar system. What has scientific exploration shown us such about Neptune and it’s moon Triton? Before, it was inconceivable for a large regular moon to orbit in any way other than in a regular fashion. Triton breaks many rules. First, it is colder than any other known body in the solar system. It also orbits in a retrograde fashion (counter-clockwise, or, when referring to planets, traveling from east to west instead of from west to east.) But it has a spherical orbit. Most other moons and planets that orbit in a retrograde fashion have elliptical orbits and they tend to very small, oblong-shaped meteorites or captures asteroids.
Triton was once thought to be a dead moon but scientists now know that even though Triton is so far away and so very cold, it is volcanically active. It has fissures, fault lines, geysers and a thick atmosphere. Scientists believe it to be a captured moon, a planet that was moving through the solar system and was captured by Neptune’s powerful gravity. Why? Because it acts much like a regular moon in many respects. Many scientists believe that Triton and Pluto both originated in the Kuiper Belt because they share a kinship with each other that isn’t shared with other planetary objects in the solar system. Pluto and Triton share many of the same chemical properties. They may have been a binary pair with Triton being the planetary object and Pluto the satellite and that at one point the gas giant Neptune captured Triton, throwing Pluto off course. This is why Triton, although far more like a planet than most moons, is a Neptunian moon.
This information may seem esoteric but information like this over time gives us a more complete picture of how the universe started, why certain things happen in our solar system and whether or not certain places will be possible for us to explore physically in the future. If we ignore these things or have no curiosity in them we don’t learn any more about the universe around us and without always learning, we stagnate or even go backwards. Scientific exploration of these things around us helps us to continue moving forward.
We have found through more study and exploration that some of the ancients were correct on one thing – we are unique in the universe. By studying the solar system we find that much of what happens in our solar system does not happen anywhere else. What seems normal and regular here is abnormal and strange in other star systems. The scientific revolution continues to propel us all forward to help us unlock even more secrets to the universe.