Astronomy and Astrophysics, volume 520, A40-40 (2010/9-2)
Methane, ammonia, and their irradiation products at the surface of an intermediate-size KBO? A portrait of Plutino (90482) Orcus.
DELSANTI A., MERLIN F., GUILBERT-LEPOUTRE A., BAUER J., YANG B. and MEECH K.J.
Abstract (from CDS):
Orcus is an intermediate-size 1000km-scale Kuiper belt object (KBO) in 3:2 mean-motion resonance with Neptune, in an orbit very similar to that of Pluto. It has a water-ice dominated surface with solar-like visible colors. We present visible and near-infrared photometry and spectroscopy obtained with the Keck 10m-telescope (optical) and the Gemini 8m-telescope (near-infrared). We confirm the unambiguous detection of crystalline water ice as well as absorption in the 2.2µm region. These spectral properties are close to those observed for Pluto's larger satellite Charon, and for Plutino (208996) 2003 AZ84. Both in the visible and near-infrared Orcus' spectral properties appear to be homogeneous over time (and probably rotation) at the resolution available. From Hapke radiative transfer models involving intimate mixtures of various ices we find for the first time that ammonium (NH4+) and traces of ethane (C2H6), which are most probably solar irradiation products of ammonia and methane, and a mixture of methane and ammonia (diluted or not) are the best candidates to improve the description of the data with respect to a simple water ice mixture (Haumea type surface). The possible more subtle structure of the 2.2µm band(s) should be investigated thoroughly in the future for Orcus and other intermediate size Plutinos to better understand the methane and ammonia chemistry at work, if any. We investigated the thermal history of Orcus with a new 3D thermal evolution model. Simulations over 4.5x109yr with an input 10% porosity, bulk composition of 23% amorphous water ice and 77% dust (mass fraction), and cold accretion show that even with the action of long-lived radiogenic elements only, Orcus should have a melted core and most probably suffered a cryovolcanic event in its history which brought large amounts of crystalline ice to the surface. The presence of ammonia in the interior would strengthen the melting process. A surface layer of a few hundred meters to a few tens of kilometers of amorphous water ice survives, while most of the remaining volume underneath contains crystalline ice. The crystalline water ice possibly brought to the surface by a past cryovolcanic event should still be detectable after several billion years despite the irradiation effects, as demonstrated by recent laboratory experiments.