Hubble spots moon orbiting the dwarf planet Makemake

Pluto is the most famous dwarf planet in the solar system, having been demoted from full planet. However, there are more of them out there in the icy reaches of the solar system — like Makemake, which just got much more interesting. NASA has announced that a moon has been discovered orbiting Makemake, its first one.

Makemake (named after the creator god of Easter Island’s Rapa Nui people) was discovered in 2005 far past the orbit of Neptune in the Kuiper Belt. It’s the second brightest Kuiper belt object despite being farther out than Pluto. Based on available data, Makemake is believed to be the third largest dwarf planet after Pluto and Eris at about 870 miles in diameter. The observations of Makemake that led to the detection of the moon were made with the Hubble Space Telescope in April of 2015 with the WFC3 instrument.

When processing the images recently, astronomers were able to separate the moon from Makemake’s glare. It has been given the temporary name MK2. It’s a faint object too at about 100 miles across. It’s basically a very large asteroid. Hubble might be over a quarter century old, but it’s still is capable of some impressive feats. The data available is not enough to fully characterize the moon, but astronomers believe it has a circular orbit that completes every 12 days or longer.

Finding a moon in orbit of Makemake could allow astronomers to study the dwarf planet in much greater detail. Analysis of MK2’s orbit and behavior can refine estimates of the dwarf planet’s mass and density. When Charon was discovered in orbit of Pluto in 1978, it allowed astronomers to calculate Pluto’s mass and realise it was orders of magnitude smaller than we thought. It started the discussion in academic circles about the planet’s unusual nature. Perhaps similarly important revelations will come to light when Makemake is studied in more detail.

 

Source: Science – Geek.com

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