Proteus and Nereid

Proteus is the second largest moon of Neptune and is named after the prophetic, shape-changing old man of the sea in Greek mythology. It was one of the moons discovered by Voyager 2 in 1989. With a mean radius of about 208 km (129 miles), Proteus is a little larger than Nereid, with a mean radius of about 170 km (106 miles). Because Proteus is so near to Neptune, however, scientists on Earth had been unable to detect it in the planet's glare.

Nereid is the third largest known moon of Neptune. It is named after the numerous daughters, called Nereids, of the sea god Nereus in Greek mythology.

Nereid has a diameter of about 340 km (210 miles). It revolves around Neptune with a period of just over 360 days in a highly elliptical orbit—the most eccentric of any known moon—that is inclined by more than 7° to the planet's equator. Its mean distance from Neptune is 5,513,400 km (3,425,900 miles), which is about 15 times farther from Neptune than the next closest known moon, Triton. Nereid is exceedingly faint, making observations with even the largest Earth-based telescopes very difficult. Thus, little is known about it, but reflectivity data returned by the U.S. Voyager 2 space probe in 1989 suggest a surface composition of ices and silicates. Nereid's odd orbit supports the hypothesis that its sibling Triton is an object that was captured by Neptune's gravity and whose billion-year-long "settling-in" process severely disrupted Neptune's original system of moons. On the other hand, Nereid itself may be a captured object that formed elsewhere in the solar system.

Voyager did not observe Nereid at close range, but data from the probe indicate that it has a nearly spherical shape. Voyager detected no large variations in brightness as Nereid rotated. Although the spacecraft was unable to determine a rotation period, the moon's highly elliptical orbit makes it unlikely that it is in synchronous rotation—i.e., that its rotation and orbital periods are equal.

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