November 16, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Planet Party Busted by Triton

Theories can be like parties with tantalizing speculations until big, whopping anomalies spoil the fun.

Check out this headline on New Scientist: “Neptune’s other moons were normal until Triton crashed the party.” Leah Crane writes, “It came in like a wrecking ball. Neptune has one of the weirdest collections of moons in our solar system, and it’s Triton’s fault.

It came in like a wrecking ball. Neptune has one of the weirdest collections of moons in our solar system, and it’s Triton’s fault.

Crane is quick to invoke the planetary scientists’ all-purpose cause for every anomaly: an impact. Still, this impact would have had to be finely tuned to explain Triton’s weirdness. Here are some of the facts about Triton that challenge secular theories:

  • Triton has an almost perfectly circular orbit.
  • Triton orbits retrograde, opposite the direction of Neptune’s other moons.
  • Triton is active, with nitrogen geysers on its surface and evidence of recent cryovolcanoes.
  • Unlike the other gas giants, Neptune “has several tiny moons either very close in or far away from the planet – most of which orbit in the direction of the planet’s spin – and one huge one, Triton, orbiting in the opposite direction.”

Robin Canup, who invented a finely-tuned impact to account for Saturn’s rings (xx, recently repeated by, commented,

“Triton crashed the party, literally and figuratively,” says Canup. “It destroyed the well-behaved satellite system that was there before it.”

The article can’t leave the party crashed without some explanation for the mess. The problem is not that planetary scientists are not creative enough to imagine a scenario to fit any anomaly; after all, they are an imaginative bunch (see Canup’s proposal on Cornell arXiv). The problem is that Triton requires a scenario to fit their preconceived idea of how the solar system formed. Here’s what’s required for such a scenario:

To get from a serene Uranus-like system to what we see at Neptune today, three things have to be true: the early moons had to be small enough that they wouldn’t destroy Triton as it crashed into them; they had to somehow slow Triton down so that it would be captured in the relatively close and circular orbit that it has now; and Neptune’s outer moons had to remain intact.

A sufficiently improbable scenario is indistinguishable from intelligent design. The comment above is exacerbated by the fact that Uranus is no simpler:

  • Like Neptune, the magnetic field at Uranus is highly inclined to its spin access, and is off-center.
  • The Uranus system is tilted more than 90 degrees, such that the whole system could be said to orbit retrograde.
  • Uranus has a “weirdest” moon of its own: Miranda, with several distinct domains that make it look like it was assembled by a committee (11/22/14).

So how do planetologists explain Uranus? The same way they explain Triton, but even more so: not just one finely-tuned (and unobservable) impact: but three or more (10/09/11).

As CEH has reported over the years, the whole solar system is weird (3/14/16). Secular theorists routinely invoke impacts as creative forces to explain numerous other anomalies in the solar system (10/17/13):

  • Mercury’s density (10/17/14)
  • Venus’s planet-wide volcanic activity (5/03/14)
  • Earth’s extinction of dinosaurs
  • The Moon’s origin (10/18/12, 2/21/13, 1/10/17)
  • Mars’s water and hemispheric dichotomy (5/03/14)
  • Ceres organics (
  • Saturn’s rings, the terrain dichotomy at Enceladus, the Phoebe Ring (10/07/09)
  • Titan (10/17/13)
  • Pluto’s terrains and moon Charon (7/15/15)
  • Asteroids with moons

Even exoplanet models need impacts. “Hot Jupiters” tend to crash into their parent stars. Those that survive migration must have been struck to stay in orbit.

It should be noted that solar system formation theories keep evolving (9/08/14). A new one appeared on, “Accretion theory suggests gas giants might start out as steamy worlds.” In planetary science, might makes right. If you say something “might” have happened, you can’t be falsified.

As we have argued, the solar system is weird only if it is old (3/14/16).




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