, Volume 92, Issue 1-4, pp 279-289

Ion Irradiation of Asphaltite: Optical Effects and Implications for Trans-Neptunian Objects and Centaurs

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Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) and Centaurs show remarkable colour variationsin the visual and near-infrared spectral regions. Surface alteration processes such asspace weathering (e.g., bombardment with ions) and impact resurfacingmay play an important role in the colour diversity of such bodies. Ion irradiation ofhydrocarbon ices and their mixtures with water ice transforms neutral (grey) surfacecolours of ices to red and further to grey. Along with the ices, TNOs and Centaursprobably contain complex carbonaceous compounds, in particular, complexhydrocarbons. Unlike ices, such refractory organic materials have originally lowvisual albedos and red colours in the visible and near-infrared ranges. Here wepresent the first results of ion irradiation experiments on asphaltite. Asphaltite isa natural complex hydrocarbon material. The reflectance spectra of asphaltite inthe 0.4–0.8 μm range have been recorded before irradiation and after eachirradiation step. We demonstrate that irradiation of this red dark material with30 keV H+ and 15 keV N+ ions gradually transforms its colour from redto grey as a result of carbonization. A moderate increase in the visual albedo hasbeen observed. These results may imply that the surfaces of primitive red objectsoptically dominated by complex refractory organics may show a similar spaceweathering trend. Our laboratory results were compared with published coloursof TNOs and Centaurs. A broad variety of spectral colours observed for TNOs andCentaurs may be reproduced by various spectra of irradiated organics correspondingto different ion fluences. However, such objects probably also contain ices and silicatecomponents which show different space weathering trends. This fact, together with alack of information about albedos, may explain difficulties to reveal correlations between surface colours within TNO and Centaur populations and their other properties, such as absolute magnitudes and orbital parameters.