NASA Top Secret



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. The tiny moon--which for now has been designated S/2015 (136472) 1, and playfully nicknamed MK 2, for short--is more than 1,300 times dimmer than Makemake itself. MK 2 was first spotted when it was about 13,000 miles from its dwarf planet parent, and its diameter is estimated to be about 100 miles across. Makemake is 870 miles wide, and the dwarf planet, which was discovered over a decade ago, is named for the creation deity of the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island. Until 2004, no spacecraft had visited Saturn for more than twenty years. Pioneer 11 took the very first close-up images of Saturn when it flew past in 1979. After that flyby, Voyager 1 had its rendezvous about a year later, and in August 1981 Voyager 2 had its brief, but glorious, encounter. Nearly a quarter of a century then passed before new high-resolution images of this beautiful, ringed planet were beamed back to Earth.