This dwarf planet was originally given the identification of 2003 EL61 and astronomers nicknamed it “Santa.”
Haumea is located well beyond Neptune and is about one third the size as Pluto. It’s the third closest dwarf planet to the sun.
The first thing that scientists noticed about Haumea is that it is one of the fastest spinning objects in the solar system.
It’s spinning so fast that it has a distorted shape that looks like a football making it the least spherical or round of all of the dwarf planets.
Some scientists are placing an objection to Haumea’s classification as a dwarf planet due to its bizarre and unusual elongated size.
Discovered By: Disputed: José Luis Ortiz Moreno & team or Mike Brown & team
Date Discovered: December 28, 2004
Diameter/Equitorial: 1,960-1,518 km
Diameter/Polar: 996 km
Mass: 4.01 × 10^21 kg (0.05 Moons)
Orbit Distance: 6,452,000,000 km (43.14 AU)
Orbital Period: 283.3 years
Surface Temperature: -241 degrees C
Moons: 2 (Hi’iaka and Namaka)
In 2004, Mike Brown and his team from Caltech at the Palomar Observatory discovered Haumea just after Christmas at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Due to the holiday, they gave it the nickname of “Santa.”
Brown published the finding online and at that time another group of astronomers at the Sierra Nevada Observatory in Spain, with the team leader José Luis Ortiz Moreno made the announcement of their discovery of Haumea from 2003 images.
It was given the official designation of 2003 EL61 and was classified as a KBO (Kuiper Belt Object) until the IAU (International Astronomical Union) changed the classification to the fifth dwarf planet in the solar system.
Credit for the discovery is being disputed as both teams indicate that the have evidence for their 2003 and 2004 observations.
The IAU lists the Sierra Nevada Observatory in Spain as the location for the discovery but no official names of those that discovered Haumea are listed.
Haumea is named for the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth and fertility. Upon the discovery of Haumea’s two moons, the Caltech team suggested that they be named in honor the location where the Haumea was discovered at the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
The moons are named for two of Haumea’s children: Hi’iaka and Namaka. Hi’iaka is the patron goddess of hula dancers and Namaka is a mythological Hawaiian water spirit.
Around one-tenth of the known Kuiper Belt objects have satellites, but it is rare for them to have more than one.
Haumea, like all of the dwarf planets are at such a distance in the solar system that scientists must theorize on the creation.
They believe that Haumea, like Pluto, is made of half water and half rock, and at one point billions of years ago, there was a collision between the ancient Haumea and a large object that knocked off the ice surface and created Haumea’s condition of spinning so fast.
Over time, the speed of the spinning turned Haumea into its unusual elongated shape.
It’s thought that much of the debris that was left from the collision formed to become Haumea’s moons. There is some confirmation of the theory as astronomers have discovered small, icy debris orbiting in the same way as Haumea.
Haumea is part of the group of objects that exist beyond Neptune’s orbit in the Kuiper Belt. There are thousands of objects in this area which are believed to have been formed around 4.5 billion years ago during the creation and formation of our solar system.
Objects in the Kuiper Belt are called KBOs (Kuiper Belt Objects), plutoids, or transneptunian objects.
Surface and Structure:
Scientists can only develop theories of what Haumea is made up of based on high-powered telescope observations and some of the sophisticate tests done with various types of lighting lenses.
The dwarf planet has a very bright surface that seems to shine and scientists think that Haumea is made up of rock that has an outer coating of crystalline ice.
Scientists think that this is the same kind of fresh water ice that we have on Earth. The high quantity of ice is what gives Haumea is high level of reflect ability.
They have found a dark red spot on Haumea’s surface that is made up of organic compounds and minerals that aren’t in the surrounding ice.
When Haumea passed in front of the star URATI 533-182543 in 2017, scientists found that Haumea has a ring system and at the same time got more accurate measurements on Haumea’s longest axis, finding that it is 17% bigger than previously thought.
Both of Haumea’s moons are much smaller than the parent dwarf planet. The largest moon, Hi’iaka is only around one percent of the mass of Haumea and the smaller Namaka weighs about one tenth of the larger moon.
It’s believed that both moons were created as a result of collision with the ancient Haumea as both moons are traveling at the same type of orbit.
Namaka orbits in an elliptical pattern around Haumea in 18 days and Hi’iaka has a circular orbit around Haumea that takes 49 days. It’s believed that both moons are made of almost pure water-ice which may have originated from Haumea.
Haumea is far out in the Kuiper Belt area, taking 285 Earth-years just to complete a full orbit around the sun.
When its orbit is closest to the sun it is still 34 times the Earth-sun distance and at its farthest distance it is over 51 times as far away as our Earth is the sun.
Between Haumea’s small size and the vast distances made it extremely difficult for scientists to make any kind of accurate estimate for its density and size. It wasn’t until the 2005 discovery of Haumea’s two moons that scientists were able to make a determination of Haumea’s mass and that of the moons.
Haumea has a radius of around 385 mi/620 km. To give you a comparison, Haumea is about 1/14th the radius of Earth. If Earth was a nickel, Haumea would be the size of a sesame seed.
The rings around Haumea are thought to have resulted in the same collision that created the two moons. When the collision occurred it released material from the surface that spun into orbit.
Part of the material was closer to the dwarf planet and became the ring, while material that was farther away grouped together to become the two moons. Scientists are also considering the possibility that the fast speed or orbit that Haumea has could have had an effect in creating both the moons and the ring.
As it spins quickly, Haumea could be shedding some of its surface due to centrifugal force, and the materials could have collected close to the dwarf planet.
Scientists have paid extra attention to the moon Hi’iaka because its surface is made up of the same crystalline water ice as Haumea.
Atmosphere and Magnetosphere:
Scientists know very little about the atmosphere of Haumea.
Researchers don’t think that Haumea has a magnetosphere.
Rotation and Orbit:
Haumea’s rotation is incredibly fast, spinning on its axis every four hours. It’s the speed of the spin that keeps Haumea from attaining a round or spheroid shape.
The speed makes the dwarf planet look like a flattened football that is spinning end over end. Because of the shape, Haumea is 1,430 mi/2,200 km at its longest axis point and less than half as wide, 619 mi/996 km at its shortest axis point.
Using the shape, researchers have calculated that Haumea is made up of almost all rock. In 2017, scientists updated both the shape and mass indicating that the density of Haumea is very similar to Pluto’s.
Scientists suggested that the odd shape that Haumea has makes it too elongated to be considered in the classification of a dwarf planet.
Could Life Exist?
Haumea doesn’t have any of the qualifications required to harbor life as we know it. It’s surface is extremely cold and frozen.
- Scientists believe that the odd football shape that Haumea has is due to its fast rotation. You could get an idea of how this happens when you throw or spin a water balloon.
- Haumea was given the classification of a dwarf planet on September 17, 2008 by the IAU (International Astronomical Union).
- Because of the fast speed of rotation that Haumea has, one day on Haumea lasts only 3.9 Earth hours.
- Scientists that study Haumea believe that it’s made up entirely of rock and has a thin coating of ice.
- Due to the ice that covers Haumea, sunlight reflects well off of the ice and it is the third brightest object in the Kuiper Belt.
- The high reflection ability of Haumea make it bright enough so that on a clear, dark night, anyone with a fine quality telescope can view Haumea in the sky.
There haven’t been any space missions sent to Haumea. All information and data that scientists have is based on ground-based telescope observations from around the world.
Some scientists have compared studying Haumea to looking at a coin that is over one hundred miles away. One of the methods used by scientists to study Haumea is called “stellar occultation.”
This is the process of observing an object as it crosses in front of a star causing a brief and temporary dimming of the star. This is a method that is used to discover exoplanets and other objects that orbit stars. However, occultation doesn’t always work for objects that are beyond Neptune’s orbit.
Scientists have calculated that a mission to Haumea could take up to 14.25 years. This is including the fact that they would have to use the gravity of Jupiter to assist mission arrival.
They have estimated that if they launched a mission in 2025, Haumea would be 48.18 AU from the sun upon arrival. A launch in 2026, 2037, or 2038 would take 16.45 years. Scientists have been looking to Haumea for a possible mission.
2004: A team announces the discovery of Haumea from 2003 data and images that were collected.
2005: A team discovered the two moons of Haumea.
2008: The IAU (International Astronomical Union) includes Haumea under the dwarf planet classification and the dwarf planet is officially given its name.
Facts about Haumea for Kids:
- Haumea is one of the densest dwarf planets that scientists have discovered to date.
- Haumea’s rotational speed is what has caused its shape to be so elongated.
- Scientists believe that the red spot on Haumea’s surface may be a location where higher concentrations of carbon rich compounds and minerals exist.
- Haumea’s dark red spot stands out prominently because the rest of the dwarf planet is brilliant white reflective ice.
- It would take three dwarf planet Haumeas to line up side by side to fit inside the Earth.
- Haumea is considered to be a TNO (trans-Neptunian object) because it’s located beyond the farthest solar system ice giant of Neptune.
- Some scientists don’t think Haumea should be considered as a dwarf planet due to its strange elongated shape.
- The surface of Haumea has an incredibly large amount of water ice.
- Haumea’s “day” is one of the shortest in the solar system.
- One year on Haumea is 284 years on Earth.
- Haumea has the fastest spin and shortest day of any known object in the solar system.