Sciency Words: Cantaloupe Terrain

Today’s post is part of a special series that first appeared on Planet Pailly. Every week, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:

Cantaloupe Terrain

This is a cantaloupe.

nv05-not-actually-a-cantaloupe

And this is Triton, Neptune’s largest moon.

nv05-not-actually-triton

Wait, I think I got those mixed up…

In 1989, Voyager 2 became the first (and so far the only) spacecraft to visit Triton, and it sent back some weird pictures of Triton’s surface. Pictures like this one:

nv05-cantaloupe-terrain

This heavily dimpled surface topography, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the skin of a cantaloupe, is unique to Triton. It may have formed due to a geologic process called diapirism, whereby blobs of warm material (called diapirs) force their way upward through layers of solid rock.

We know this process occurs on Earth and possibly a few other places in the Solar System. However, diapirism does not generally produce a cantaloupe-like appearance. That only happens on Triton, and no one’s entirely sure why.

So research continues on what scientists have officially named “cantaloupe terrain.”

nv05-cantaloupe-terrain-vs-chaos-terrain

Today’s post is part of Neptune month for the 2015 Mission to the Solar System. Click here to learn more about this series.

And click here to find out more about Europa’s chaos terrain.


Written by James Pailly.

To read all the articles in the ‘Sciency Words‘ series, visit the Planet Pailly blog.

  • Kirov

    Hm, interesting. Any ideas why it forms on Triton? Or perhaps why it forms on cantaloupes? Perhaps that could provide some insight?

    • Paulo R. Mendes

      Who knows? maybe this terrain was formed after a bunch of aliens strip mined Triton for its He3.

      • Kirov

        I sense a starting point in the making.

  • diapirism, you missed an opportunity there james

  • hmm, in Australia, we call cantaloupes rock melons, so, I think I’ll refer to this as rockmellion terrain from now on