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CosmosUp | January 19, 2019

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NASA Hubble Telescope Spots A Makemake Moon

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Our solar system is a huge place, it’s true edge stretches far beyond the Kuiper belt. Maybe, you are familiar with Pluto, the demoted planet and the most famous dwarf planet within the Kuiper belt, but there are too many objects beyond it; actually, there are dwarf planets larger than Pluto residing there.

Also lately, the astronomy community even talk about the existence of a huge planet, planet nine, 10 times the mass of Earth located far away in the distant frozen space beyond Pluto; So, we just began to understand the vastness of our solar system.

Probably, you even heard about Sedna but what about Makemake? Did you know about it? Makemake was discovered on March 31, 2005, by a team led by Michael Brown — the famous planet hunter; it is also a dwarf planet with a diameter of about two-thirds the size of Pluto, located on average 40 AU from us, which is 6 billion kilometers away (or 3.7 billion miles) that is farther out than Pluto, but closer than Eris.

Like other icy inhabitants of the Kuiper belt, Makemake has extremely low average temperature, about 30 K (−243.2°C), means its surface is completely frozen. It was thought that this cold object is solitary with no satellite around it, but now we are sure there’s a tiny moon barely visible in this gelid planetary system.

On 26 April 2016, NASA announced that the Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a small, coal-black moon circling Makemake. The moon was discovered about a year ago with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, but scientists only announced the discovery this week. Nicknamed MK 2 or S/2015 (136472) 1, the moon is only 100 miles (approximately 160km wide) in diameter and it is more than 1,300 times fainter than Makemake.

Our preliminary estimates show that the moon’s orbit seems to be edge-on, and that means that often when you look at the system you are going to miss the moon because it gets lost in the bright glare of Makemake,

Alex Parker, who led the image analysis, said in a NASA news release.

Makemake Moon

Artist’s rendering of the distant dwarf planet Makemake and its tiny moon ©NASA, ESA, and A. Parker (Southwest Research Institute)

Makemake is in the class of rare Pluto-like objects, so finding a companion is important,

Parker said.

The discovery of this moon has given us an opportunity to study Makemake in far greater detail than we ever would have been able to without the companion.

Several previous preliminary searches tried to find a moon around Makemake but they turned up empty, probably due to the moon’ darkness, its incredibly dark, much darker than Makemake, it basically resembles a chunk of floating charcoal. Scientists have no idea why its so dark.

These previous infrared data did not have sufficient resolution to separate Makemake from MK2. The team’s reanalysis, based on the new Hubble observations, suggests that much of the warmer surface detected previously in infrared light may, in reality, simply have been the dark surface of the companion MK2.

A valuable sourceThe discovery of a moon around Makemake can provide valuable information about this dwarf planetary system. For example, by measuring the moon’s orbit, scientists can accurately recalculate the mass of the system and begin to understand its evolution. The discovery of this moon also reinforces the idea that most dwarf planets have moons. Also, this moon could tell us more about Makemake, like why the surface of this dwarf planet is so bright? And why some regions appear warmer than other regions.

To date, there are 5 officially recognized dwarf planets in our solar system — Pluto, Haumea, Eris, and Makemake in the Kuiper Belt, plus Ceres in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. As all of the dwarf planets, except Pluto, were discovered in 2004 or later, there is a good chance that more dwarf planets have yet to be found.

This new discovery opens a new chapter in comparative planetology in the outer solar system.



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