Astronaut Brand Van



Have you ever wondered what may be the purpose of the moon? Well, the moon is the shiny beacon that lights up the night as the sun lights up the day. This amber body is quite shy and doesn't always show itself, but when it does, the moon's brilliance overpowers the darkness. The surface of the moon inspires astronomers around the globe who religiously watch as our incandescent orb passes serenely through its natural cycle, but if you are an avid planet observer you will come to realise that the reflecting light from the moon through the telescope lens may interfere with your ability to clearly view even our closest planets. For this reason many planet watches believe the new moon cycle is the perfect time to catch a glimpse of another world. 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. "This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment. These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA's science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not," commented Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen in an April 13, 2017 NASA Press Release. Dr. Zurbuchen is associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington D.C.