Wednesday 27 April 2016

Moon of Makemake

Astronomers working with the Hubble Space Telescope have announced the discovery of a satellite the dwarf planet Makemake. As yet, the moon is unnamed, having the provisional designation S/2015 (136472) 1, which refers to its year of initial observation and its position orbiting Makemake. Currently, the team have nicknamed it MK 2, although an official name will be chosen in time, most likely in connection with the Rapa Nui mythology from which Makemake is taken.

Makemake is one of five confirmed dwarf planets in the Solar System, one of four which exist in the outer part of the system, along with Pluto, Haumea and Eris. It is very like Pluto, being about two-thirds its size, and like Pluto, has an extremely bright surface. MK 2, on the other hand, is much smaller, and extremely dark. Along with its orbit, which is thought to be aligned edge-on to the Earth and its observatories, this has made it very hard to make out within the glare of its parent body.

The presence of a satellite will, as with Pluto, make measurements of Makemake easier and more accurate. It seems likely that such satellites are common among outer system planetoids. All four outer system dwarf planets are now known to have at least one satellite: Eris has Dysnomia, Haumea has Hi'iaka and Namaka, Pluto has Charon, Nyx, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx, and Makemake has MK 2. Most of the likely dwarf planet candidates in the outer Solar System, including Quaoar, Orcus, Salacia, Varda, also have moons. It appears to be an extremely busy place.

The full article from Hubble is here.

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