Friday, December 23, 2016

Makemake has a Surprisingly Uniform Surface


Perna et al


The dwarf planet (136472) Makemake is one of the largest trans-Neptunian objects discovered to date. Noteworthy, the size and surface temperature of this celestial body put it in a transition region where nitrogen is preferentially lost, while the less volatile methane is retained. Indeed, literature spectra clearly show that the surface of Makemake is dominated by methane ice, though the presence of nitrogen and of irradiation products of methane has been inferred by several authors, and a debate is still open about the eventual rotational variability of the surface composition. In this work we present new visible and near-infrared spectra of Makemake obtained with the TNG telescope (La Palma, Spain) in the time span 2006–2013. Our data sample different rotational phases, covering about 80% of the surface. All of the obtained spectra look very similar, suggesting an overall homogeneous composition. No secular variations appear when comparing our data to literature results (as expected, considering the quite short orbital arc travelled by Makemake since its discovery in 2005). The presence of methane diluted in nitrogen is evidenced by the shift of the observed absorption bands with respect to those of pure methane, with a dilution state looking homogeneous over the surface. We modelled a complete visible and near-infrared spectrum of Makemake using the Shkuratov formalism, and found that adding irradiation products of methane like ethane and ethylene seems indeed improving the fit of the synthetic spectrum to our data. We found no hints of a localized/temporary atmosphere.

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