Feeds

ESO says dwarf planet Makemake lacks atmosphere

First look at Kuiper Belt object also reveals no shroud of gases

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Makemake, one of the solar system’s five dwarf planets, has been found to have no atmosphere.

The tiny ball of rock is just two-thirds the size of Pluto and orbits even farther out in the Kuiper Belt.

Scientists had posited the dwarf planet, named for the creator god in Easter Island mythology, would possess an atmosphere, because it appeared sufficiently bright to hint at the presence of ice. Even in the outer reaches of the solar ice can evaporate. The resulting gas cannot achieve escape velocity and becomes an atmosphere.

That process is thought to account for atmospheres on other dwarf planets. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) says Eris , the largest of the dwarf planets, probably has an atmosphere as a result of its icy surface. Pluto, the Observatory says, definitely has one, even if it is very tenuous with pressure just “one hundred thousandth of that on Earth, or about 0.015 millibars.”

The ESO was able to discern those facts after Eris and Pluto passed in front of a star, an occurrence known as an occultation, which allows observations during the time the dwarf planets were effectively back-lit.

Makemake also recently occulted a star, giving ESO boffins the chance to make similar observations that, sadly, have come up with a negative result, as reported by Nature (PDF).

Lead scientist Jose Luis Ortiz, of Spain’s Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia, has issued a statement with the following explanation of how the ESO team decided Makemake lacks an atmosphere:

"As Makemake passed in front of the star and blocked it out, the star disappeared and reappeared very abruptly, rather than fading and brightening gradually. This means that the little dwarf planet has no significant atmosphere.”

The rapid moves by the star are significant because if an atmosphere is present it blurs things out and makes observations of an object’s edge hard. The swift transition suggests there’s no instrument-blurring atmosphere in the way.

The surface of Makemake. Credit ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

Artist's impression of Makemake's surface

Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

Ortiz said the lack of atmosphere “shows just how much we have yet to learn about these mysterious bodies,” but adds it’s not all bad news as “Finding out about Makemake's properties for the first time is a big step forward in our study of the select club of icy dwarf planets."

Those properties, revealed by Chile’s Very Large Telescope, New Technology Telescope and TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST), with the help of some other South American ‘scopes, reveal that Makemake has an albedo of .77. That’s about the same as dirty snow, the Observatory says, making the dwarf brighter than Pluto but dimmer than Eris.

It’s also close to the rough measurements of .7 for the albedo of Haumea, the third-largest dwarf planet. Haumea possesses no atmosphere, making a 50/50 split among trans-Uranic dwarf planets.

Ceres, the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system, is thought to possess an atmosphere. ®

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
Most Americans doubt Big Bang, not too sure about evolution, climate change – survey
Science no match for religion, politics, business interests
So, just how do you say 'the mutt's nuts' in French?
Vital linguistic question interrupts LOHAN spaceplane mission
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
LOHAN and the amazing technicolor spaceplane
Our Vulture 2 livery is wrapped, and it's les noix du mutt
Liftoff! SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts Dragon on third resupply mission to ISS
SpaceX snaps smartly into one-second launch window
STEALTHY NANOROBOTS dress up as viruses, prepare to sneak into YOUR BODY
Cloaking techniques nicked from viruses tackle roadblocks on way to medical frontier
prev story

Whitepapers

Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.