This dwarf planet has no atmosphere

Astronomers have discovered that a distant planet, about two thirds the size of Pluto, lacks atmosphere. The planet ‘Makemake’ travels around the Sun in a distant path that lies beyond that of Pluto but closer to the Sun than Eris, the most massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System. Previous observations of chilly Makemake have shown it to be similar to its fellow dwarf planets, leading some astronomers to expect its atmosphere, if present, to be similar to that of Pluto.

But astronomers led by Luis Ortiz (Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia, CSIC, Spain) in a new study have found that like Eris, Makemake is not surrounded by a significant atmosphere. The team combined multiple observations using three telescopes at European Southern Observatory’s La Silla and Paranal observing sites in Chille – the Very Large Telescope, New Technology Telescope and TRAPPIST (Transiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) – with data from other small telescopes in South America, to look at Makemake as it passed in front of a distant star.

“As Makemake passed in front of the star and blocked it out, the star disappeared and reappeared very abruptly, rather than fading and brightening gradually. This means that the little dwarf planet has no significant atmosphere.” said Jose Luis Ortiz. “It was thought that Makemake had a good chance of having developed an atmosphere – that it has no sign of one at all shows just how much we have yet to learn about these mysterious bodies. Finding out about Makemake’s properties for the first time is a big step forward in our study of select club of icy dwarf planets,” Ortiz said.

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Toyota to recall 2.8m cars for steering glitch

Toyota Motor Corp. said it will recall 2.77 million vehicles worldwide,including some of its popular Prius hybrid cars,for steering and water pump problems in the carmaker’s second multi-million-vehicle recall in a little over a month. The defects, which Toyota said had caused no accidents and could each be fixed in an hour or so,could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to repair,according to Deutsche Securities autos analyst Kurt Sanger.

While the recall is widespread, the flaws are less serious and any damage to Toyota’s reputation would likely be limited compared with massive recalls in 2009 and 2011 when unintended celeration problems in Toyota vehicles were the suspected cause of fatal crashes in the United States. Toyota this year recaptured the crown of the world’s top automaker after last year’s natural disasters, which temporarily disrupted production in Japan and Thailand, had knocked it from the top spot in 2011.

Toyota is recalling 2.76 million vehicles worldwide to fix a steering component that could be damaged by wear and tear, and another 630,000 gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles to replace water pumps, company spokesman Joichi Tachikawa said. Many vehicles were targeted by both recalls, resulting in overlap. Deutsche Securities analyst Sanger said the extent of the recall suggested a more aggressive stance by the company to address defects after its recall crisis a few years ago. “They seem to continue to be obsessively monitoring these things and looking for potential problems before they arise,” Sanger said.

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