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Nature. 2011 Oct 26;478(7370):493-6. doi: 10.1038/nature10550.

A Pluto-like radius and a high albedo for the dwarf planet Eris from an occultation.

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  • 1LESIA-Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Université Paris-Diderot, 11, Rue Marcelin Berthelot, 92195 Meudon cedex, France. bruno.sicardy@obspm.fr

Abstract

The dwarf planet Eris is a trans-Neptunian object with an orbital eccentricity of 0.44, an inclination of 44 degrees and a surface composition very similar to that of Pluto. It resides at present at 95.7 astronomical units (1 AU is the Earth-Sun distance) from Earth, near its aphelion and more than three times farther than Pluto. Owing to this great distance, measuring its size or detecting a putative atmosphere is difficult. Here we report the observation of a multi-chord stellar occultation by Eris on 6 November 2010 UT. The event is consistent with a spherical shape for Eris, with radius 1,163 ± 6 kilometres, density 2.52 ± 0.05 grams per cm(3) and a high visible geometric albedo, Pv = 0.96(+0.09)(-0.04). No nitrogen, argon or methane atmospheres are detected with surface pressure larger than ∼1 nanobar, about 10,000 times more tenuous than Pluto's present atmosphere. As Pluto's radius is estimated to be between 1,150 and 1,200 kilometres, Eris appears as a Pluto twin, with a bright surface possibly caused by a collapsed atmosphere, owing to its cold environment. We anticipate that this atmosphere may periodically sublimate as Eris approaches its perihelion, at 37.8 astronomical units from the Sun.

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PMID:
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