NASA Space Emblems



Each of the little Space eggs resides within its own ring arc--which is a fragmentary ring of Saturn. One hypothesis states that glittering ice crystals swarming around in the ring arc might be floating down to the surface of Methone, filling in its impact craters or other rough topography. This is something that is thought to have occurred on two other small, icy moons of Saturn--Atlas and Pan. Icy stuff swarming around in Saturn's rings apparently piled up around each moonlet's equator. 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. HST's detection of a site, which appears to show persistent, intermittent plume activity on Europa, provides a promising target for the Europa mission to investigate. Equipped with its new and sophisticated suite of science instruments, the mission can detect whatever may potentially be swimming around in the hidden global ocean sloshing around beneath its secretive crust of ice.