Next to Sun Moon Earth



The discovery of Makemake's little moon increases the parallels between Pluto and Makemake. This is because both of the small icy worlds are already known to be well-coated in a frozen shell of methane. Furthermore, additional observations of the little moon will readily reveal the density of Makemake--an important result that will indicate if the bulk compositions of Pluto and Makemake are similar. "This new discovery opens a new chapter in comparative planetology in the outer Solar System," Dr. Marc Buie commented in the April 26, 2016 Hubble Press Release. Dr. Buie, the team leader, is also of the Southwest Research Institute. 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. Launched as GRAIL A and GRAIL B in September 2011, the probes were renamed Ebb and Flow by schoolchildren in Montana. The probes operated in almost circular orbit near the lunar poles at an altitude of approximately 34 miles, until their mission came to an end in December 2012. The distance between the twin probes altered a bit as they soared over areas of lesser and greater gravity that were caused by visible topological features on the Moon's surface, such as impact craters and mountains--as well as by masses that were secreted beneath the lunar surface.