The composition of "ultra-red" TNOs and centaurs

C. Morea Dalle Ore, M. A. Barucci, J. P. Emery, D. P. Cruikshank, C. de Bergh, T. L. Roush, D. Perna, F. Merlin, L. V. Dalle Ore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


We present an analysis of the colors available for seven trans-neptunian objects (TNOs) and three centaurs among the reddest known, aimed at characterizing their surface chemical properties. In particular we seek to obtain evidence in support of the proposed correlation between the visible coloration of the surface of TNOs and their surface compositions (Brown, M.E., Schaller, E.L., Fraser, W.C. [2011]. Astrophys. J. 739, L60).The analysis focuses on nine available colors in the visible-near IR (0.3-4.5 μm) spectral range scaled to the V albedo to provide a proxy for the spectral shape of the objects. The colors include Spitzer IRAC data never published before, key in providing an effective constraint in the discrimination of ices contributing to the surface composition of the objects. Compositions are obtained by comparing the data to a grid of radiative transfer models convolved by the filter response functions of the colors adopted in the spectrum-proxies to match the resolution of the observations. We find evidence suggesting the presence of hydrocarbons and/or methanol on the surfaces of most objects in our sample, supporting the hypothesis by Brown et al. (Brown, M.E., Schaller, E.L., Fraser, W.C. [2011]. Astrophys. J 739, L60) that the coloration of red TNOs could be linked to their methanol content.From our finding of methanol/hydrocarbon ices on the surfaces of the objects in our sample of very red TNOs and centaurs we infer that ultra-red objects in general might contain these ices and therefore might have formed in the outer part of the Solar System. We also deduce that the surfaces of most of the very red TNOs in our dataset are probably still quite pristine, and that their organic materials could have been produced by irradiation of the volatile ices whose traces are still present on their surface. Although our sample is small, we infer that the irradiation process is still in progress, as hinted by the centaurs' slightly elevated organic amounts at smaller perihelion distances. However, considering the relatively similar amounts of organics found in our data at a wide variety of perihelion distances, we also infer that it could have started before Neptune's migration.The technique used to constrain the composition described as part of this study introduces a new approach at investigating the surface chemistry of the very small and numerous objects that constitute the bulk of the TNO and centaur populations. This innovative method has the potential to provide constraints for irradiation theories and for models of dynamical and chemical evolution of the Solar System.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-326
Number of pages16
StatePublished - May 5 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Centaurs
  • Ices, IR spectroscopy
  • Photometry
  • Trans-neptunian objects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The composition of "ultra-red" TNOs and centaurs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this