Methane and nitrogen abundances on pluto and eris

S. C. Tegler, D. M. Cornelison, W. M. Grundy, W. Romanishin, M. R. Abernathy, M. J. Bovyn, J. A. Burt, D. E. Evans, C. K. Maleszewski, Z. Thompson, F. Vilas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


We present spectra of Eris from the MMT 6.5 m Telescope and Red Channel Spectrograph (5700-9800 Å, 5Å pixel-1) on Mt. Hopkins, AZ, and of Pluto from the Steward Observatory 2.3 m Telescope and Boller and Chivens Spectrograph (7100-9400 Å, 2Åpixel-1) onKitt Peak, AZ. In addition, we present laboratory transmission spectra of methane-nitrogen and methane-argon ice mixtures. By anchoring our analysis in methane and nitrogen solubilitiesin one another as expressed in the phase diagram of Prokhvatilov & Yantsevich, and comparing methane bands in our Eris andPluto spectra and methane bands in our laboratory spectra of methane and nitrogen ice mixtures, we find Eris' bulk methaneand nitrogen abundances are ∼10% and ∼90% and Pluto's bulk methane and nitrogen abundances are ∼3% and ∼97%. Such abundances for Pluto are consistent with values reported in the literature. It appears that the bulk volatile composition of Eris is similar to the bulk volatile composition of Pluto. Both objects appear to be dominated by nitrogen ice.Our analysis also suggests, unlike previous work reported in the literature, that the methane and nitrogen stoichiometry is constant with depth into the surface of Eris. Finally, we point out that our Eris spectrum is also consistent with a laboratory ice mixture consisting of 40% methane and 60% argon. Although we cannot rule out an argon-rich surface, it seems more likely that nitrogen is the dominant species on Eris because the nitrogen ice 2.15μm band is seen in spectra of Pluto and Triton.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1296-1305
Number of pages10
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 10 2010


  • Methods:laboratory
  • Methods:observational
  • Planets and satellites:surfaces
  • Techniques:spectroscopic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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