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Solar System Asteroid Belt Location
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Imagine, a frigid, distant shadow-region in the far suburbs of our Solar System, where a myriad of twirling icy objects--some large, some small--orbit our Sun in a mysterious, mesmerizing phantom-like ballet within this eerie and strange swath of darkness. Here, where our Sun is so far away that it hangs suspended in an alien sky of perpetual twilight, looking just like a particularly large star traveling through a sea of smaller stars, is the Kuiper Belt--a mysterious, distant deep-freeze that astronomers are only now first beginning to explore. Makemake is a denizen of this remote region, a dwarf planet that is one of the largest known objects inhabiting the Kuiper Belt, sporting a diameter that is about two-thirds the size of Pluto. In April 2016, a team of astronomers announced that, while peering into the outer limits of our Solar System, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) discovered a tiny, dark moon orbiting Makemake, which is the second brightest icy dwarf planet--after Pluto--in the Kuiper Belt.
I know what you're thinking..."Better put on the hip waders, and not just because we're going fishing!" Believe it or not, the moon has far more to do with catching fish than you might think. Bear with me for a minute, try to keep an open mind, and I will show you a secret that most people don't know about.
Several possibilities could provide an answer as to why the moon would have charcoal-black surface patches, even though it is circling a dwarf planet that is as bright as freshly fallen snow. One theory that has been suggested proposes that, unlike larger objects such as Makemake, its own little companion moon is so small that it cannot gravitationally keep a grip onto a bright and icy crust, which then sublimates, undergoing a sea-change from solid to gas under the melting influence of warming sunlight. This would make the little moon akin to comets and other KBOs, many of which are well-coated with very dark material.
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The astronomers observed this effect in the upper layer of the lunar crust, termed the megaregolith. This layer is heavily pockmarked by relatively small craters, measuring only 30 kilometers or less in diameter. In contrast, the deeper layers of lunar crust, that are scarred by larger craters, appear not to have been as badly battered, and are, therefore, less porous and fractured.
Additional modeling showed that the strange features must be atmospheric--but nevertheless close to Titan's surface--probably creating a very thin layer of tiny solid organic particles. Because they are located directly above the dune fields surrounding Titan's equator, the only possible explanation left is that these mysterious spots are really clouds of dust churned up from the dunes.
NASA's future exploration of ocean worlds is enhanced by HST's monitoring of Europa's possible plume activity and Cassini's long-term observations of the plume of Enceladus. In particular, the investigations of both ocean worlds are providing the groundwork for NASA's Europa Clipper mission, which is planned for launch in the 2020s.