90482 Orcus

This page was last edited on 19 February 2018, at 20:28.

90482 Orcus (/ˈɔːrkəs/ OR-kəs), provisional designation 2004 DW, is a trans-Neptunian object from the Kuiper belt with a large moon, Vanth. It was discovered on 17 February 2004, by American astronomers Michael Brown of Caltech, Chad Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory, and David Rabinowitz of Yale University. It is probably a dwarf planet.

Precovery images taken by the Palomar Observatory as early as November 8, 1951 were later obtained from the Digitized Sky Survey.[2]

Orcus is a plutino, a trans-Neptunian object that is locked in a 2:3 resonance with the ice giant Neptune, making two revolutions around the Sun to every three of Neptune's. This is much like Pluto, except that it is constrained to always be in the opposite phase of its orbit from Pluto: Orcus is at aphelion when Pluto is at perihelion and vice versa. Moreover, the aphelion of Orcus's orbit points in nearly the opposite direction from Pluto's, although the eccentricities and inclinations are similar. Because of these similarities and contrasts, along with its large moon Vanth that recalls Pluto's large moon Charon, Orcus has been regarded as the anti-Pluto. This was a major consideration in selecting its name, as the deity Orcus was the Etruscan equivalent of the Roman Pluto, and later became an alternate name for Pluto.[16]

The surface of Orcus is relatively bright with albedo reaching 23%, grey in color and water-rich. The ice is predominantly in crystalline form, which may be related to past cryovolcanic activity. Other compounds like methane or ammonia may also be present. The existence of a satellite allowed astronomers to determine the mass of the system, which is approximately equal to that of the Saturnian moon Tethys. The ratio of masses of Orcus and Vanth is uncertain, possibly anywhere from 1:33 to 1:12.[9] The diameter of Orcus is estimated to be about 920 km and the diameter of Vanth about 280 km respectively assuming similar albedo values for the primary and the satellite.[7] A spatially resolved submillimeter imaging of Orcus–Vanth system in 2016 showed that Vanth has a relatively large size of 475 ± 75 km. The size of the primary becomes slightly smaller at 910 km.[8]

90482 Orcus
Orcus nasa
Discovery [1][2]
Discovered by M. E. Brown
C. Trujillo
D. Rabinowitz
Discovery date 17 February 2004
MPC designation (90482) Orcus
Pronunciation /ˈɔːrkəs/ (OR-kəs)
Named after
Orcus (Roman mythology)[3]
2004 DW
TNO[1] · plutino[4][5]
plutoid (possible)[6]
Adjectives Orcean
Orbital characteristics[1]
Epoch 4 September 2017 (JD 2458000.5)
Uncertainty parameter 2
Observation arc 65.31 yr (23,855 days)
Earliest precovery date November 8, 1951
Aphelion 48.069 AU
Perihelion 30.727 AU
39.398 AU
Eccentricity 0.2201
247.29 yr (90,324 days)
0° 0m 14.4s / day
Inclination 20.582°
Known satellites Vanth (see 2nd infobox)
Physical characteristics
Dimensions 917±25 km[7] 910+50
Mass (6.41±0.19)×1020 kg (system)[9]
Mean density
Equatorial surface gravity
≈ 0.18 m/s2
Equatorial escape velocity
≈ 0.41 km/s
13.188 h[10]
North pole right ascension
North pole declination
Temperature < 44 K[10]
B–V =0.68[12]
V–R = 0.37[12]
19.1 (opposition)[13][14]
2.31±0.03 (integral),[7] 2.41±0.05[15]

Orbit and rotation

TheKuiperBelt Orbits Orcus2
The orbits of Orcus (blue), Pluto (red) and Neptune (grey). Orcus and Pluto are shown in the April 2006 positions. The dates of their perihelia (q) and aphelia (Q) are also marked.

Orcus is in 2:3 orbital resonance with Neptune,[4] having an orbital period of 247 years. Orcus's orbit is similar to Pluto's (both have perihelia above the ecliptic), but is oriented differently. Although at one point its orbit approaches that of Neptune, the resonance between the two bodies means that Orcus itself is always a great distance away from Neptune (there is always an angular separation of over 60 degrees between them). Over a 14,000-year period Orcus stays more than 18 AU from Neptune.[17] Because their mutual resonance with Neptune constrains Orcus and Pluto to remain in opposite phases of their otherwise very similar motions, Orcus is sometimes described as the "anti-Pluto".[16]

Orcus is currently 48.0 AU from the Sun[13] and will come to aphelion (farthest distance from the Sun) in 2019.[14] Simulations by the Deep Ecliptic Survey (DES) show that over the next 10 million years Orcus can acquire a perihelion distance (qmin) as small as 27.8 AU.[4]

The rotation period of the primary is not known. Different photometric surveys have produced different results. Some show low amplitude variations with periods ranging from 7 to 21 hours, whereas others show no variability.[18] However, the value obtained by Ortiz et al., about 10.5 hours, seems to be the most likely one.[19] The rotational poles of Orcus probably coincide with the orbital poles of its moon, Vanth. This means that Orcus is currently viewed pole-on, which could explain the near absence of any rotational modulation of its brightness.[18][19] If, however, the primary is tidally locked with the satellite, the rotational period will coincide with the 9.7-day orbital period of Vanth.[19]


This minor planet was named after one of the Roman gods of the underworld, Orcus. While Pluto was the ruler of the underworld, Orcus was a punisher of the damned. The approved naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 26 November 2004 (M.P.C. 53177).[20]

Under the guidelines of the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) naming conventions, objects with a similar size and orbit to that of Pluto are named after underworld deities. Accordingly, the discoverers suggested naming the object after Orcus, the Etruscan god of the underworld and punisher of broken oaths. He was portrayed in paintings in Etruscan tombs as a hairy, bearded giant. The name was also a private reference to the homonymous Orcas Island, where Brown's wife Diane had lived as a child and that they visit frequently.[21]

On March 30, 2005, Orcus's companion, Vanth was named after a winged female demon of the Etruscan underworld. She could be present at the moment of death, and frequently acted as a guide of the deceased to the underworld.[22]

Physical characteristics

Size and magnitude

The absolute magnitude of Orcus is approximately 2.3[7] (comparable with the 2.6 of cubewano 50000 Quaoar). The detection of Orcus by the Spitzer Space Telescope in the far infrared[23] and by Herschel Space Telescope in submillimeter constrains its diameter to 958.4±22.9 km.[7] Orcus appears to have an albedo of about 21% to 25%,[7] which may be typical of trans-Neptunian objects approaching the 1000 km diameter range.[24]

In the magnitude and size estimates reported above it was assumed that Orcus is a singular object. The presence of a relatively large satellite (Vanth, see below) may change them considerably. The absolute magnitude of Vanth is estimated at 4.88, which means that it is about 11 times fainter than Orcus itself.[15] If the albedos of both bodies are the same at 0.23 then the size of Orcus is about 917±25 km, and the size of Vanth is about 276±17 km.[7] The ALMA submillimeter measurements takem in 2016 showed that Vanth has a relatively large size of 475 ± 75 km with albedo of about 8% while Orcus' has a slightly smaller size of 910 km.[8]

Orcus, Earth %26 Moon size comparison
Orcus compared to Earth and the Moon

Mike Brown's website lists Orcus as a dwarf planet with "near certainty",[6] Tancredi concludes that it is one,[25] and is massive enough to be considered one under the 2006 draft proposal of the IAU,[26] but the IAU has not formally recognized it as such.[27][28]

Mass and density

Since Orcus is known to be a binary system, the mass of the system has been estimated to be (6.32±0.05)×1020 kg, or about 3.8% the mass of the most massive known dwarf planet, Eris.[15] How this mass is partitioned between Orcus and Vanth depends of their relative sizes. If Vanth's diameter is about one third that of Orcus, its mass is only 3% of the system mass. On the other hand, if the size of Vanth is about half that of the primary (see above), then its mass could be as high as 1/12 of the system mass, or about 8% of the mass of Orcus.[15]

The density of the primary (and secondary assuming the same density) is about 1.5 g/cm3.[7]

Spectra and surface

The orbital resonances of Orcus and Pluto in a rotating frame with a period equal to Neptune's orbital period. (Neptune is held stationary.)

The first spectroscopic observations in 2004 showed that the visible spectrum of Orcus is flat (neutral in color) and featureless, whereas in the near-infrared there were moderately strong water absorption bands at 1.5 and 2.0 μm. Thus Orcus appeared to be different from other trans-Neptunian objects like Ixion with red visible and often featureless infrared spectra.[29] Further Infrared observations in 2004 by the European Southern Observatory and the Gemini telescope give results consistent with mixtures of water ice and carbonaceous compounds, such as tholins.[12] The water and methane ices can cover no more than 50% and 30% of the surface, respectively.[30] This means the proportion of ice on the surface is less than on Charon, but similar to that on Triton.[30]

Later in 2008–2010 new infrared spectroscopic observations with a higher signal-to-noise ratio revealed additional spectral features. Among them are a deep water ice absorption band at 1.65 μm, which is an evidence of the crystalline water ice on the surface of Orcus, and a new absorption band at 2.22 μm. The origin of the latter feature is not completely clear. It can be caused either by ammonia/ammonium dissolved in the water ice or by methane/ethane ices.[10] The radiative transfer modeling showed that a mixture of water ice, tholins (as a darkening agent), ethane ice and ammonium ion (NH4+) provides the best match to the spectra, whereas a combination of water ice, tholins, methane ice and ammonia hydrate gives a slightly inferior result. On the other hand, a mixture of only ammonia hydrate, tholins and water ice failed to provide a satisfactory match.[18] So, as of 2010, the only reliably identified compounds on the surface of Orcus are crystalline water ice and, possibly, dark tholins. A firm identification of ammonia, methane and other hydrocarbons requires better infrared spectra.[18]

Comparison with moons and other TNOs

Earth Moon Dysnomia Dysnomia Eris Eris Charon Charon Nix Nix Kerberos Kerberos Styx Styx Hydra Pluto Pluto Makemake Makemake Namaka Namaka Hi'iaka Hi'iaka Haumea Haumea Salacia Salacia Actaea 2002 MS4 2002 MS4 Sedna Sedna 2007 OR10 2007 OR10 Weywot Weywot Quaoar Quaoar Vanth Vanth Orcus Orcus File:EightTNOs.png
Artistic comparison of Pluto, Eris, Makemake, Haumea, Sedna, 2002 MS4, 2007 OR10, Quaoar, Salacia, Orcus, and Earth along with the Moon.

Orcus straddles the edge for trans-Neptunian objects massive enough to retain volatiles such as methane on the surface.[18] The reflectance spectrum of Orcus shows the deepest water-ice absorption bands of any Kuiper belt object (KBO) that is not associated with the Haumea collisional family.[15] The large icy satellites of Uranus have infrared spectra quite similar to that of Orcus.[15] Among other trans-Neptunian objects Pluto's moon Charon appears to be most similar to Orcus. It has a higher albedo but very similar visible and near-infrared spectra. Their densities are also similar and both have water ice rich surfaces.[10] Quaoar—a trans-Neptunian object of similar size—has strong water ice absorption features in its spectra but also has a very red color in the visible line implying the presence of ultrared matter on its surface. Dwarf planet Haumea and objects from its collisional family have much higher albedos and much deeper water absorption bands than Orcus. Finally, (208996) 2003 AZ84—another large object in 2:3 resonance with Neptune—has spectral properties very similar to Orcus.[18]


The presence of crystalline water ice, and possibly ammonia ice may indicate that a renewal mechanism was active in the past on the surface of Orcus.[10] Ammonia so far has not been detected on any TNO or icy satellite of the outer planets other than Miranda.[10] The 1.65 μm band on Orcus is broad and deep (12%), as on Charon, Quaoar, Haumea, and icy satellites of giant planets.[10] On the other hand, the crystalline water ice on the surfaces of TNOs should be completely amorphized by the galactic and Solar radiation in about 10 million years.[10] Some calculations indicate that cryovolcanism, which is considered one of the possible renewal mechanisms, may indeed be possible for TNOs larger than about 1000 km.[18] Orcus may have experienced at least one such episode in the past, which turned the amorphous water ice on its surface into crystalline. The preferred type of volcanism may have been explosive aqueous volcanism driven by an explosive dissolution of methane from water–ammonia melts.[18]

Models of internal heating via radioactive decay suggest that Orcus may be capable of sustaining an internal ocean of liquid water.[31]


Orcus Vanth orbit
Model of Orcus and Vanth with its orbit nearly aligned face-on with the sun and earth's direction
Discovered by Mike Brown and T.-A. Suer
Discovery date 13 November 2005
Pronunciation /ˈvænθ/
S/2005 (90482) 1,
Orcus I
Adjectives Vanthian
Orbital characteristics[9]
9030 ± 89 km
Eccentricity 0.007 ± 0.003
9.5406 ± 0.0004 days
Inclination ±21°
Satellite of Orcus
Physical characteristics
Dimensions 378±100 km
(Vanth's albedo of 0.12)[9]
276±17 km
(assuming equal albedos)[7]
475±75 km[8]
Mass 2–6 × 1019 kg
Mean density
≈ 1.5 g/cm3
≈ 0.11 m/s2
≈ 0.447 km/s
Albedo ≈ 0.12[9]
Spectral type
moderately red (optical)[15]
21.97 ± 0.05[15]
4.88 ± 0.05[15]

Orcus has one known moon, Vanth (full designation (90482) Orcus I Vanth). It was discovered by Mike Brown and T.-A. Suer using discovery images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on November 13, 2005.[32] The discovery was announced on 22 February 2007 in IAUC 8812.[33]

Using observations with the Hubble Space Telescope from November 13, 2005, Mike Brown and T.A. Suer detected a natural satellite.[34] The discovery of a satellite of Orcus was reported in IAUC 8812 on 22 February 2007.[22] The satellite was given the designation S/2005 (90482) 1 before later being named Vanth. It orbits Orcus in a nearly face-on circular orbit with an eccentricity of about 0.007, and an orbital period of 9.54 days.[15] Vanth orbits only 9030±89 km from Orcus and is too close to Orcus for ground-based spectroscopy to determine the surface composition of the satellite.[9]

Mike Brown suspects that like the Pluto–Charon system, Orcus and Vanth are tidally locked.[16] Vanth does not resemble known collisional satellites because its spectrum is very different from that of its primary, and it may be a captured KBO.[16] Vanth could also have originated as a result of rotational fission of the primordial Orcus, which would have rotated much faster than now.[19]

On March 23, 2009, Brown asked readers of his weekly column to suggest possible names for the satellite, with the best one to be submitted to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) on April 5.[16] The name Vanth, after the Etruscan goddess who guided the souls of the dead to the underworld, was eventually chosen from among a large pool of submissions.[21] This submission was assessed by the IAU's Committee for Small Body Nomenclature, which voted to approve it in March 2010, in accordance with the normal object naming procedures.[35][36]


Vanth was found at 0.25 arcsec from Orcus with magnitude difference of 2.7±1.0.[32] Estimates made in 2009 by Mike Brown show that the apparent magnitude of Vanth is 21.97±0.05 which is 2.54±0.01 magnitudes fainter than Orcus.[15] Assuming equal albedos this would mean a diameter of 280 km, or 2.9 times smaller than the primary.[9] However, the dissimilar colors of Orcus (neutral) and Vanth (red) suggest that Vanth could have an albedo a factor of two lower than Orcus.[15] Should Vanth have an albedo of only 0.12, Vanth could be as large as 380 km with Orcus being 760 km in diameter.[9] The mass of Vanth also depends on its albedo and can vary from 3 to 9% of the total system mass.[9][15] In 2016 Brown and Butler estimated Vanth's diameter at 480 km ± 75 km, about 1/2 Orcus' diameter, using resolved ALMA images making Orcus and Vanth a smaller analog of Pluto and Charon.[8] They also measured Vanth's albedo as only 0.08+0.02
, almost 3 times darker than Orcus.

The satellite does not resemble other known collisional satellites because its spectrum is very different from that of its primary. Vanth may thus be a captured Kuiper belt object.[16]

Name of Vanth

Upon discovery, Vanth was issued a provisional designation, S/2005 (90482) 1. On March 23, 2009, Brown asked readers of his weekly column to suggest possible names for the satellite, with the best one to be submitted to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) on April 5.[16] The name Vanth, the winged Etruscan psychopomp who guides the souls of the dead to the underworld, was chosen from among a large pool of submissions. Vanth was the only suggestion that was purely Etruscan in origin. It was the most popular submission, first suggested by Sonya Taaffe.[21] This submission was assessed and approved by the IAU's Committee for Small Body Nomenclature in their March 30, 2010, circular.[37]

The Etruscan Vanth is frequently portrayed in the company of Charun (Charon), and so as the name of the moon of Orcus (nicknamed the "anti-Pluto" because resonance with Neptune keeps it on the opposite side of the Sun from Pluto), it is an allusion to the parallels between Orcus and Pluto. Brown quoted Taaffe as saying that if Vanth "accompanies dead souls from the moment of death to the underworld itself, then of course her face is turned always toward Orcus", a reference to the likely synchronous orbit of Vanth about Orcus.[21]

See also


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