24 August 2011

Snow White, or the Seventh Dwarf

Discoveryon has an intereting article about a TNO (Trans-Neptunian Object) called 2007 OR10.

Originally nicknamed ‘Snow White’ and the 'Seventh Dwarf' it is one of the largest small planets to be found beyond Neptune's orbit (Okay Pluto does sometimes come within Neptune's orbit but let's not split hairs!). It is an icy world, with about half its surface covered in water ice that once flowed from ancient, slush-spewing volcanoes, according to astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

The new findings also suggested that the red-tinged dwarf planet might be covered in a thin layer of methane, the remnants of an atmosphere that’s slowly being lost into space.

“You get to see this nice picture of what once was an active little world with water volcanoes and an atmosphere, and it’s now just frozen, dead, with an atmosphere that’s slowly slipping away,” said Mike Brown, professor of planetary astronomy.

2007 OR10 was discovered in 2007 as part of the PhD thesis of Brown’s former graduate student Meg Schwamb – orbits the Sun at the edge of the solar system and is about half the size of Pluto, making it the fifth largest dwarf planet.

At the time, Brown had guessed incorrectly that it was an icy body that had broken off from another dwarf planet named Haumea; he nicknamed it ‘Snow White’ for its presumed white colour.

As expected, ‘Snow White’ was red. But to their surprise, the spectrum revealed that the surface was covered in water ice.
There is, however, one other dwarf planet that’s both red and covered with water ice: Quaoar, which Brown helped discover in 2002.

The spectrum of 2007 OR10 looks similar to Quaoar’s, suggesting that what happened on Quaoar also happened on 2007 OR10. “That combination — red and water — says to me, ‘methane,’” said Brown.
“We’re basically looking at the last gasp of Snow White. For four and a half billion years, Snow White has been sitting out there, slowly losing its atmosphere, and now there’s just a little bit left,” added Brown.

Fascinating stuff!


CherryPie said...

I agree, very fascinating.

jams o donnell said...

It is eh?

Sean Jeating said...

Very athmospheric, almost breathtaking for several hours.
Thanks a lot, Jams. Non-excusable would have been, had I missed taking cognizance of this.

jams o donnell said...

Glad to be of service Sean!

Sean Jeating said...

And you're not surprised I am still alive?
By Neptun!

word verification: Putin

jams o donnell said...

Ah Sean that you are alive is cause for celebration every day!