Astronaut Biology



The need to comprehend and explain our origins--the world of natural phenomena--cannot be properly viewed as exclusively scientific. Instead, it should be viewed as something generally human. Through enchanting, magical narratives involving super-human heroes and heroines, as well as anthropomorphic gods and goddesses, ancient pre-scientific societies attempted to explain and make some order out of the mysterious complexities of the Cosmos. Earth's Moon has always held a place of special fascination for our species, inspiring our human imagination to escape its troubling limitations and--as we search beyond our Earthbound lives--help us to move towards an understanding of who we are, in all our human complexity. Therefore, ancient gods and goddesses mimic our bewitching Moon's unending, gentle tug on the forces of life. In this sense, it may be detrimental to completely dismiss these ancient myths--ascribing them to an unsophisticated and archaic past. 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. "From what we know about cloud formation on Titan, we can say that such methane clouds in this area and in this time of year are not physically possible. The convective methane clouds that can develop in this area and during this period of time would contain huge droplets and must be at a very high altitude--much higher than the 6 miles that modeling tells us the new features are located," Dr. Rodriguez explained in the September 24, 2018 JPL Press Release.