Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found a moon orbiting the dwarf planet Makemake, far beyond the orbit of Neptune.
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Makemake lies within the Kuiper Belt, a region of icy objects left over from the formation of our solar system, the same region where Pluto lies. It’s believed that hundreds of thousands of these objects exist in the region, and possibly a trillion comets or more.
The moon — designated MK2 — is about 160 kilometres across and lies about 21,000 kilometres from Makemake. It is also more than 1,300 times fainter than the small world it orbits.
This Hubble image reveals the first moon ever discovered around the dwarf planet Makemake. NASA, ESA, and A. Parker and M. Buie (SwRI)
This Hubble image reveals the first moon ever discovered around the dwarf planet Makemake.
NASA, ESA, and A. Parker and M. Buie (SwRI)
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The moon was discovered through observations using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 in April 2015, but was only announced on Tuesday.
There are four dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt (a fifth dwarf planet, Ceres, lies within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter), and some have moons. However, this is the first moon discovered around Makemake.
Astronomers made previous attempts to discover whether or not Makemake had a moon, but never found one. They believe that the orbit of the moon is edge-on to the planet, making it difficult to see due to the glare of the planet.
Makemake was discovered in 2005 at the Palomar Observatory and named after a god of creation of the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island.