Nereid

Article written: 11 Nov , 2009
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Nereid is the name given to the third largest of Neptune’s moons, and the second to have been discovered … by veteran outer solar system astronomer, Gerard P. Kuiper (guess who the Kuiper Belt is named after!), in 1949. Prior to Voyager 2’s arrival, it was the last moon of Neptune to be discovered.

In keeping with the nautical theme (Neptune, Roman god of the sea; Triton, Greek sea god, son of Poseidon), Nereid is named after the fifty sea nymphs, daughters of Nereus and Doris, in Greek mythology … the nautical theme continues with the names of the other 11 moons of Neptune, Naiad (one kind of nymph, Greek mythology; not a Nereid), Thalassa (daughter of Aether and Hemera, Greek mythology; also Greek for ‘sea’), Despina (nymph, daughter of Poseidon and Demeter (Greek); not a Nereid), Galatea (one of the Nereids), Larissa (Poseidon’s lover; Poseidon is the Greek Neptune), Proteus (also a sea god in Greek mythology; Proteus is the Neptune’s second largest moon), Halimede (one of the Nereids), Sao (also one of the Nereids), Laomedeia (guess … yep, another of the Nereids), Psamathe (ditto), and Neso (ditto, all over again).

Almost everything we know about Nereid comes from the images Voyager 2 took of it (83), between 20 April and 19 August, 1989; its closest approach was approximately 4.7 million km.

Nereid’s highly eccentric orbit (eccentricity 0.75, the highest of any solar system moon) takes it from 1.37 million km from Neptune to 9.66 million km (average 5.51 million km); unlike Triton, and like the other inner moons, Nereid’s orbit is prograde. This suggests that it may be a captured Kuiper Belt object, or that its orbit was substantially perturbed when Triton was captured.

For an irregular moon, Nereid is rather large (radius approx 170 km). Its spectrum and color (grey) are quite different from those of other outer solar system bodies (e.g. Chiron), which suggests that it may have formed around Neptune.

For more on Nereid, check out the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) profile of it!

Nereid is a bit of an orphan with regard to Universe Today stories, but there are some! Three new moons discovered for Neptune , and How Many Moons Does Neptune Have?.

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