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Nature. 2004 Dec 9;432(7018):731-3.

Crystalline water ice on the Kuiper belt object (50000) Quaoar.

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  • 1Institute for Astronomy, 2680 Woodlawn Drive, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA.


The Kuiper belt is a disk-like structure consisting of solid bodies orbiting the Sun beyond Neptune. It is the source of the short-period comets and the likely repository of the Solar System's most primitive materials. Surface temperatures in the belt are low ( approximately 50 K), suggesting that ices trapped at formation should have been preserved over the age of the Solar System. Unfortunately, most Kuiper belt objects are too faint for meaningful compositional study, even with the largest available telescopes. Water ice has been reported in a handful of objects, but most appear spectrally featureless. Here we report near-infrared observations of the large Kuiper belt object (50000) Quaoar, which reveal the presence of crystalline water ice and ammonia hydrate. Crystallinity indicates that the ice has been heated to at least 110 K. Both ammonia hydrate and crystalline water ice should be destroyed by energetic particle irradiation on a timescale of about 10(7) yr. We conclude that Quaoar has been recently resurfaced, either by impact exposure of previously buried (shielded) ices or by cryovolcanic outgassing, or by a combination of these processes.

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