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Brilliant! Tenth planet turns out to be a shiner
Science News ^ | April 15, 2006 | Ron Cowen

Posted on 04/19/2006 4:50:42 PM PDT by neverdem

Xena, unofficially called the 10th planet, is the second-most-shiny known object in the solar system, new observations show. Scientists are scrambling to explain where Xena got its sparkle. Some suggest that it might have enough heat to belch methane, despite being in the coldest region of the solar system.

The new notion of Xena arises from Hubble Space Telescope images that were released this week. The images reveal that Xena, the most distant known object in our solar system, isn't quite the big shot that scientists had thought it was.

The chilly outpost's diameter—2,384 kilometers—makes it about 5 percent larger than Pluto, Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and his colleagues announced April 11. That's still large enough for Xena to retain its unofficial status as a planet, Brown says, but considerably smaller than ground-based observations had indicated (SN: 8/6/05, p. 83: http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20050806/fob2.asp).

Researchers have difficulty determining the size of remote denizens of the solar system because a large object that reflects a small amount of sunlight looks the same as a small object reflecting a lot of light.

But for Xena, the sharp Hubble pictures erase that ambiguity.

The relatively small size shown in those images indicates that the body reflects 86 percent of sunlight. Brown says he was "thoroughly shocked" by that finding. Researchers had assumed that Xena's surface was similar to that of Pluto, which reflects 60 percent of sunlight. Saturn's moon Enceladus, recently shown to be shooting out a geyser of water vapor (SN: 1/7/06, p. 13: Available to subscribers at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20060107/note11.asp), is the only solar system object known to have a higher reflectivity, notes Brown.

Scientists have proposed two scenarios to explain Xena's high reflectivity. In one, a jet of methane leaks continuously from Xena. The methane jet freezes as it emerges, continually blanketing the surface with fresh snow.

What's the heat source that could drive such activity? "Beats me," says planetary scientist Rick Binzel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He notes that gravitational tugs from a neighboring moon sometimes generate heat within a body, but Xena's moon is too small to do that.

Another source of heat, sunlight, would penetrate only a few tens of meters below Xena's surface and would probably have long ago depleted the reserves of methane there.

In the other model, the planet has a methane-rich atmosphere created during the portion of its 560-year-long orbit when it's nearest the sun. As Xena speeds away, the atmosphere freezes on the surface as a bright frost. However, Brown says, it's not clear that such frost would be bright enough to account for the shininess of Xena's surface.


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References:

2006. Hubble finds that the 'tenth planet' is slightly larger than Pluto. Space Telescope Science Institute news release. April 11. Available at http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/newsdesk/
archive/releases/2006/16/full/
.

Further Readings:

Cowen, R. 2006. Moon spray. Science News 169(Jan. 7):13. Available to subscribers at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20060107/note11.asp.

______. 2005. Bigger than Pluto: Tenth planet or icy leftover?. Science News 168(Aug. 6):83. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20050806/fob2.asp.

For additional images and background material about Xena, go to http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/newsdesk/
archive/releases/2006/16/
.

For additional background information about Xena from Mike Brown, go to http://www.gps.caltech.edu/~mbrown/planetlila/.

A version of this article written for younger readers is available at Science News for Kids.

Sources:

Richard Binzel
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Earth and Planetary Science
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Mailstop Code 54-410
Cambridge, MA 02139-4301

Michael Brown
California Institute of Technology
Division of Geophysics & Planetary Science
Mailstop Code 150-21
Pasadena, CA 92215



http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20060415/fob8.asp

From Science NewsVol. 169, No. 15, April 15, 2006, p. 230.

Copyright (c) 2006 Science Service. All rights reserved.



TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Government; News/Current Events; US: California; US: District of Columbia
KEYWORDS: 10thplanet; hubble; nasa; science; solarsystem; xena; xplanets
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XENA FILES. The distant sun shines on Xena, often called the 10th planet, in this illustration. Inset: The Hubble Space Telescope image that revealed Xena's size for the first time.
A. Schaller, NASA, ESA; (Inset) Brown, NASA, ESA
1 posted on 04/19/2006 4:50:45 PM PDT by neverdem
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To: neverdem

Xena may be a shiner but Xenu is, of course invisible.


2 posted on 04/19/2006 4:53:52 PM PDT by gondramB (You can always tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs - Country music saying)
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To: Xenalyte

Congrats. You're a planet.


3 posted on 04/19/2006 5:01:11 PM PDT by JennysCool (Liberals don't care what you do, as long as it's mandatory.)
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To: neverdem

4 posted on 04/19/2006 5:02:26 PM PDT by MikefromOhio (aka MikeinIraq)
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To: gondramB

*snrk*


5 posted on 04/19/2006 5:03:08 PM PDT by null and void (Pay no attention to the imam behind the curtain...)
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To: KevinDavis

PING


6 posted on 04/19/2006 5:05:44 PM PDT by SunTzuWu (Hans Delbruck - Scientist and Saint.)
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To: King Prout; KevinDavis

ping


7 posted on 04/19/2006 5:06:09 PM PDT by neverdem (May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows that you're dead.)
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To: neverdem
Every time I read about the planet "Xena" I want to hunt down and punch the idiot who named it.
8 posted on 04/19/2006 5:07:47 PM PDT by Psycho_Bunny (The MSM is a hate group and we are the object of their disdain.)
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To: neverdem

Shiny!


9 posted on 04/19/2006 5:08:55 PM PDT by Harmless Teddy Bear (Ditch the 1967 Outer Space Treaty! I want my own space bar and grill)
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To: neverdem
In one, a jet of methane leaks continuously from Xena.

Sounds like a few friends of mine...maybe they should name this planet in honor of them.

10 posted on 04/19/2006 5:09:59 PM PDT by NittanyLion
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To: neverdem

I belched a little methane last night....


11 posted on 04/19/2006 5:24:58 PM PDT by JoJo Gunn (Help control the Leftist population. Have them spayed or neutered. )
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To: NittanyLion

"In one, a jet of methane leaks continuously from Xena."

Maybe they're mistaking it for Uranus...


12 posted on 04/19/2006 5:36:08 PM PDT by aquila48
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To: neverdem

13 posted on 04/19/2006 6:01:07 PM PDT by mikrofon (Pint-sized planet)
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To: neverdem

Lord John Whorfin: Where-a are we going?
Red Lectroids: Planet Ten!
Lord John Whorfin: When?
Red Lectroids: Real soon!

14 posted on 04/19/2006 6:34:42 PM PDT by Alex Murphy (Colossians 4:5)
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To: RightWhale; Brett66; xrp; gdc314; anymouse; NonZeroSum; jimkress; discostu; The_Victor; ...

15 posted on 04/19/2006 6:40:21 PM PDT by KevinDavis (http://www.cafepress.com/spacefuture)
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To: neverdem

What is the albedo of fresh snow? It's bright, but it isn't 100%.


16 posted on 04/19/2006 6:47:44 PM PDT by RightWhale (Off touch and out of base)
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To: RightWhale
Weren't space craft always made of this stuff ~ duraluminum or similar shiny material?
17 posted on 04/19/2006 6:51:26 PM PDT by muawiyah (-)
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To: Harmless Teddy Bear
"...Shiny!..."

The reason for the reflectivity is readily apparent. The inhabitants of Xena all wear aluminum foil around their heads to keep out the emanations.

For a long while, since it was too cold to fish, they watched ABC and CBS. Then, about 2 decades ago, ashen-faced and crestfallen, they all began to spontaneously buy up and adorn their craniums with the highly reflective foil.

We don't know why... we can only speculate. There were many job openings, but they didn't want to do them, and could no longer attract illegal aliens to do so.

"Too effing cold," an Andrusian was heard to remark as he passed them by. "I'm drawn to LA, instead".

18 posted on 04/19/2006 6:54:32 PM PDT by pickrell (Old dog, new trick...sort of)
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To: muawiyah

Yeah, but they are very colorful, which means they aren't reflecting 100% of everything. Lots of purple stuff and lots of gold stuff.


19 posted on 04/19/2006 6:59:36 PM PDT by RightWhale (Off touch and out of base)
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To: RightWhale

Oh, yeah, the purple stuff. Forgot that.


20 posted on 04/19/2006 7:03:12 PM PDT by muawiyah (-)
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