Astronomers Find Ice, Possibly Methane, on Distant Dwarf Planet
California Institute of Technology astronomers have found that about half of the surface of dwarf planet 2007 OR10, which goes by the punny nickname of Snow White, is covered in water ice that once flowed from ancient volcanoes. Findings also suggest that the planet (an artist’s rendering seen above) is covered in a thin layer of methane, which is part of the remnants of an atmosphere fizzling out into space.
Discovered in 2007 orbiting the Sun at the edge of the solar system, Snow White, about half the size of Pluto, is the fifth largest dwarf planet. When first discovered by then graduate student Meg Schwamb, professor Mike Brown name the planet Snow White after its incorrectly presumed white color, but the dwarf planet is actually one of the reddest objects in the solar system.
The fact that Snow White is covered in ice isn’t uncommon for objects that far out in the solar system, but the fact that it is red is odd for a planet covered in water ice, something that usually gives off a white coloring. Brown explains that the combination of red coloring and water on Snow White suggests that methane is present:
“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.”
Though the presence of water ice on Snow White is definite, the presence of methane is not yet confirmed, and astronomers will have to put Snow White under a large enough telescope in order to find out. Brown also wants to rename the planet, as Snow White is no longer an accurate description. I vote for changing the name to “Jerry.”
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