On the origin & thermal stability of Arrokoth's and Pluto's ices

C. M. Lisse, L. A. Young, D. P. Cruikshank, S. A. Sandford, B. Schmitt, S. A. Stern, H. A. Weaver, O. Umurhan, Y. J. Pendleton, J. T. Keane, G. R. Gladstone, J. M. Parker, R. P. Binzel, A. M. Earle, M. Horanyi, M. R. El-Maarry, A. F. Cheng, J. M. Moore, W. B. McKinnon, W. M. GrundyJ. J. Kavelaars, I. R. Linscott, W. Lyra, B. L. Lewis, D. T. Britt, J. R. Spencer, C. B. Olkin, R. L. McNutt, H. A. Elliott, N. Dello-Russo, J. K. Steckloff, M. Neveu, O. Mousis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


In this paper we discuss in a thermodynamic, geologically empirical way the long-term nature of the stable majority ices that could be present in Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69 (also called Arrokoth; hereafter “MU69”) after its 4.6 Gyr residence in the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt (EKB) as a cold classical object. We compare the upper bounds for the gas production rate (~1024 molecules/s) measured by the New Horizons (NH) spacecraft flyby on 01 Jan 2019 to estimates for the outgassing flux rates from a suite of common cometary and KBO ices at the average ~ 40 K sunlit surface temperature of MU69, but do not find the upper limit very constraining except for the most volatile of species (e.g. CO, N2, CH4). More constraining is the stability versus sublimation into vacuum requirement over Myr to Gyr, and from this we find only 3 common ices that are truly refractory: HCN, CH3OH, and H2O (in order of increasing stability), while NH3 and H2CO ices are marginally stable and may be removed by any positive temperature excursions in the EKB, as produced every 108–109 years by nearby supernovae and passing O/B stars. To date the NH team has reported the presence of abundant CH3OH and H2O on MU69's surface (Stern et al., 2019; Grundy et al., 2020). NH3 has been searched for, but not found. We predict that future absorption feature detections, if any are ever derived from higher signal-to-noise ratio spectra, will be due to an HCN or poly-H2CO based species. Consideration of the conditions present in the EKB region during the formation era of MU69 lead us to state that it is highly likely that it “formed in the dark”, in an optically thick mid-plane, unable to see the nascent, variable, highly luminous Young Stellar Object (YSO)/TTauri Sun, and that KBOs contain HCN and CH3OH ice phases in addition to the H2O ice phases found in their short period (SP) comet descendants. Finally, when we apply our ice thermal stability analysis to bodies/populations related to MU69, we find that methanol ice is likely ubiquitous in the outer solar system; that if Pluto isn't a fully differentiated body, then it must have gained its hypervolatile ices from proto-planetary disk (PPD) sources in the first few Myr of the solar system's existence; and that hypervolatile rich, highly primordial comet C/2016 R2 was placed onto an Oort Cloud orbit on a similar few Myr timescale.

Original languageBritish English
Article number114072
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2021


  • Centaurs
  • Comets
  • Ices
  • Kuiper Belt
  • MU
  • Pluto
  • Thermal histories
  • Trans Neptunian objects


Dive into the research topics of 'On the origin & thermal stability of Arrokoth's and Pluto's ices'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this