5 Mind-Blowing Things Found in Our Own Solar System

#2. Triton's Surface Defies Logic


Triton is by far the largest of Neptune's moons, and as befits a celestial body circulating a planet that has weird-ass black spot storms running rampant, it's a strange piece of work. Although you probably notice that the second you lay your eyes on it: As it happens, Triton looks less like a moon and more like a giant cantaloupe.

Wikimedia Commons
Mm, add a little salt, or maybe some sugar ... damn, this space article is making us hungry.

A little background: Triton is one of extremely few bodies in the solar system that are geologically active. It's believed to be made of a frozen translucent layer of nitrogen with a darker substrate, which creates a sort of solid greenhouse effect. The little bit of sunlight it receives is trapped within the glassy layers. This subterranean warmth melts the ice and causes massive ice- and methane-spewing cryovolcanoes, a word that sounds like it was invented by a disaster movie screenwriter.

This Christmas ... It's Going to Get Hot.

Great, so we seem to know quite a lot about Triton. Creepy place, ice volcanoes. But what does all this have to do with the "looks like a cantaloupe" part? Nothing, that's what. Or maybe something. To be honest, no one has a damn clue.

The thing is, Triton's cantaloupe skin is completely unlike anything science has ever seen, and the cause of its formation is still a mystery. It can't be impact-caused, because the edges of the surface are all smooth and curvy. There could have been some melting and reforming involved -- kind of like ice cream left out on a counter, then returned to the freezer, then brought back out again because you keep changing your mind about whether you want ice cream. But since Triton is so far away from the sun, the source of heat that would have melted its features had to have come from inside it -- like a radioactive core. Some think that the surface is some sort of soft material that's being pushed up through a denser material beneath it, making it more or less like planetary zit residue.

"Crater Face" doesn't even begin to cover it.

But wait, there's more! Triton also seems to be actually warming up, which is pretty unusual for a moon that is 2.5 billion freaking miles away from the sun. The reason Triton continues to warm is -- everyone together now -- unknown. And honestly, science doesn't seem all too eager to delve into it, in case they find out Triton has been an egg of a giant space monster all along.

#1. Mars Shows (Apparent) Traces of Life


Whether we've harnessed it for fear mongering or genuine scientific interest, there's no denying that the Red Planet has always been close to mankind's collective heart. So imagine the gold brick scientists pooped when news emerged that large quantities of methane have been detected in the atmosphere of Mars. What makes this strange is that the ultraviolet in sunlight breaks down methane pretty efficiently, so technically the planet shouldn't be able to have any. That, in turn, means that something on Mars is producing methane.

Geological events are capable of releasing methane, but there is no evidence of recent geological activity on Mars. You know what else is capable of releasing methane? Life.

Exhibit A.

The methane might of course originate from some hitherto unknown geological activity, but one that would require liquid water and lava flows. So, unless some radically new concept of methane production emerges, it looks like Mars has stashed away either water or life -- or both. That's right -- science might be on the verge of discovering living alien life forms. All of those shitty sci-fi writers in the '50s were right!

Only the '50s, though. The rest are still bullshit.

OK, so we might not need to build a fleet of anti-Martian star cruisers just yet. The reigning theory is that there might be some forms of micro-organisms below Mars' surface, as primitive bacteria on Earth release methane as a byproduct of their biological processes. And then we have that infamous meteorite.

The Martian invasion has had kind of a slow start.

Do you remember this from a few years ago? When people were claiming they found a rock that proved Mars had life? In 1984, a team of meteorite hunters tracked and found it in Antarctica. It has since been dated with four different dating techniques, and was shown to be around 4 billion years old -- the oldest rock on Earth by far. On its surface, many strange mineral formations were found, prompting scientists to study it obsessively ever since. The latest, most technologically advanced analysis done in 2009 concluded basically nothing.

Basically nothing. They did find out one thing: The formations must have occurred in liquid. So they set out sciencing the shit out of the meteorite, dubbed ALH 84001. As years passed, scientist after scientist found they were unable to reproduce the meteorite's formations using inorganic chemical processes, which would seem to suggest they were created by something organic. As in living. Now, that doesn't mean there is life on Mars -- even if there were ancient fossilized alien bacteria, 4 billion years is a long damn time. Surely, their little bacteria civilization would've died out millions of years ago.

Then again ... if they did, who the hell is making all the methane?

It's always the simplest explanation, right?

Budd Erickson is a freelance philosopher and writer, contact him at berickson@live.ca.

For reasons to fear space and shoot guns at it, check out 7 Bizarre Sounds From Outer Space and 5 Cosmic Events That Could Kill You Before Lunch.

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn about David Wong's moon base.

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