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Ice cubes in space

Researchers determine the composition and orbit of two moons at the fringes of the solar system

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12:00pm, March 27, 2009

You’d need a mighty tall glass to hold two space objects that researchers have now identified as ice cubes at the fringes of the solar system. The larger of the icy bodies is about the width of Ohio, the smaller about twice the length of Rhode Island. Both bodies are moons of the dwarf planet Haumea. The trio, discovered in late 2004 and 2005, reside in the Kuiper Belt, a reservoir of objects beyond the orbit of Neptune whose most famous denizen is Pluto.

Spectra taken of the larger and outermost of the two moons, dubbed Hi’iaka, had indicated that its surface, unlike most Kuiper Belt objects, is made of nearly pure crystalline water-ice.

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