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No. 59: Sep-Oct 1988

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Nereid: grotesque shape or two-faced?

Nereid, a satellite of Neptune, is peculiar in several ways:

  1. Its orbit is retrograde and highly elliptical (1.4 x 9.7 million kilometers)
  2. Its brightness changes by a factor of four as it rotates
  3. Its diameter, according to M.W. and B.E. Schaefer (Nature, 333:436, 1988) is thought to be at least 660 kilometers.

None of these facts taken alone is anomalous, but (2) and (3) taken together seem incompatible. If the large brightness changes are due to a highly irregular shape, Nereid's 660-kilometer size is too large, because astronomers agree that gravitational forces will sphericize all objects larger than 400 kilometers. On the other hand, if Nereid is two-faced, like Saturn's moon Iapetus (it's carbon-black on one side, light-colored on the other), astronomers are again faced with trying to explain how such a large solar-system object can acquire so much carbonaceous material on one side only. Also, Nereid's eccentric, retrograde orbit surely hints at a history of capture or orbit disruption. (Weisburd, S.; "Neptune's Nereid: Another Mysterious Moon," Science News, 133:374, 1988. Also: Veverka, J.; "Taking a Dim View of Nereid," Nature, 333:391, 1988.)

From Science Frontiers #59, SEP-OCT 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987