Astronauts Christmas



The "Dagwood Sandwich" Moon. Earlier models of Ganymede's oceans were based on the assumption that the existence of salt didn't change the nature of liquid very much with pressure. However, Dr. Vance and his colleagues found, through laboratory experiments, that salt does increase the density of liquids under the extreme conditions hidden deep within Ganymede and similar icy moons with subsurface bodies of water. Imagine adding table salt to a glass of water. Instead of increasing in volume, the liquid will actually shrink and become denser. The reason for this is that salt ions lure water molecules. 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, along with its beautiful ringed sister planet, Saturn, are the gas-giant duo of our Sun's family of eight major planets. The other two giant planets--that dwell in our Solar System's outer limits--are Uranus and Neptune. Uranus and Neptune are classified as ice giants, because they carry within them larger cores than Jupiter and Saturn, as well as thinner gaseous envelopes. Jupiter and Saturn may (or may not) contain small, hidden cores, that are heavily veiled by extremely massive, dense gaseous envelopes.