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A Moon For Makemake

Imagine, a frigid, distant shadow-region in the far suburbs of our Solar System, where a myriad of twirling icy objects–some large, some small–orbit our Sun in a mysterious, mesmerizing phantom-like ballet within this eerie and strange swath of darkness. Here, where our Sun is so far away that it hangs suspended in an alien sky of perpetual twilight, looking just like a particularly large star traveling through a sea of smaller stars, is the Kuiper Belt–a mysterious, distant deep-freeze that astronomers are only now first beginning to explore. Makemake is a denizen of this remote region, a dwarf planet that is one of the largest known objects inhabiting the Kuiper Belt, sporting a diameter that is about two-thirds the size of Pluto. In April 2016, a team of astronomers announced that, while peering into the outer limits of our Solar System, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST) discovered a tiny, dark moon orbiting Makemake, which is the second brightest icy dwarf planet–after Pluto–in the Kuiper Belt.

The tiny moon–which for now has been designated S/2015 (136472) 1, and playfully nicknamed MK 2, for short–is more than 1,300 times dimmer than Makemake itself. MK 2 was first spotted when it was about 13,000 miles from its dwarf planet parent, and its diameter is estimated to be about 100 miles across. Makemake is 870 miles wide, and the dwarf planet, which was discovered over a decade ago, is named for the creation deity of the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island.

Discovered on March 31, 2005, by a team of planetary scientists led by Dr. Michael E. Brown of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Makemake was initially dubbed 2005 FY 9, when Dr. Brown and his colleagues, announced its discovery on July 29, 2005. The team of astronomers had used Caltech’s Palomar Observatory near San Diego to make their discovery of this icy dwarf planet, that was later given the minor-planet number of 136472Makemake was classified as a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in July 2008. Dr. Brown’s team of astronomers had originally planned to delay announcing their discoveries of the bright, icy denizens of the Kuiper BeltMakemake and its sister world Eris–until additional calculations and observations were complete. However, they went on to announce them both on July 29, 2005, when the discovery of Haumea–another large icy denizen of the outer limits of our Solar System that they had been watchingwas announced amidst considerable controversy on July 27, 2005, by a different team of planetary scientists from Spain.

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