1572 Supernova



With the GRAIL data, the astronomers were able to map the gravity field both in and around over 1,200 craters on the lunar far side. This region--the lunar highlands--is our Moon's most heavily cratered, and therefore oldest, terrain. Heavily cratered surfaces are older than smoother surfaces that are bereft of craters. This is because smooth surfaces indicate that more recent resurfacing has occurred, erasing the older scars of impact craters. Makemake, like Pluto, shows a red hue in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The near-infrared spectrum is marked by the existence of the broad methane absorption bands--and methane has also been observed on Pluto. Spectral analysis of Makemake's surface shows that its methane must be present in the form of large grains that are at least one centimeter in size. In addition to methane, there appears to be large quantities of ethane and tholins as well as smaller quantities of ethylene, acetylene, and high-mass alkanes (like propane)--most likely formed as a result of the photolysis of methane by solar radiation. The tholins are thought to be the source of the red color of the visible spectrum. Even though there is some evidence for the existence of nitrogen ice on Makemake's frozen surface, at least combined with other ices, it is probably not close to the same abundance of nitrogen seen on Pluto and on Triton. Triton is a large moon of the planet Neptune that sports a retrograde orbit indicating that it is a captured object. Many astronomers think that Triton is a wandering refugee from the Kuiper Belt that was captured by the gravity of its large, gaseous planet. It is possible that eventually the doomed Triton will plunge into the immense, deep blue world that it has circled for so long as an adopted member of its family. Nitrogen accounts for more than 98 percent of the crust of both Pluto and Triton. The relative lack of nitrogen ice on Makemake hints that its supply of nitrogen has somehow been depleted over the age of our Solar System. Jupiter is circled by a bewitching duo of moons that are potentially capable of nurturing delicate tidbits of life as we know it. Like its more famous sister-moon, Europa, Ganymede might harbor a life-loving subsurface ocean of liquid water in contact with a rocky seafloor. This special arrangement would make possible a bubbling cauldron of fascinating chemical reactions--and these reactions could potentially include the same kind that allowed life to evolve on our own planet!