A majority of people weren’t aware that dwarf planets existed until the former ninth planet, Pluto, was downgraded to a dwarf planet. It was then that people all over the world began to understand that the IAU (International Astronomical Union) had established a list of rules that defined what could be classified as a planet.
Dwarf planets are objects that are too small to be considered to be planets, too large to be considered asteroids, and don’t have all of the qualifications of a planet. A planet must be a celestial body that:
- Is in orbit around the sun
- Has sufficient mass for self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a nearly spherical/round shape
- Has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit
- Isn’t a satellite
In some cases, those objects that are dwarf planets accomplish almost all of the guidelines except “clearing the neighborhood around its orbit.” This means that a planet must have a strong enough gravitational pull to either be in control of the objects (like our moon), or toss all others out of its way.
Makemake was discovered in 2005 and is the dwarf planet that is the second furthest from the sun. It’s the third largest dwarf planet in our solar system but wasn’t approved by the IAU as a dwarf planet until 2008. Makemake is one of five dwarf planets that have been identified including: Pluto, Ceres, Eris, and Haumea.
Makemake is located in the area outside of Neptune’s orbit that is called the Kuiper Belt. It’s smaller than Pluto, yet one of the brightest objects in the Kuiper Belt. The discovery of Makemake is important because it, along with Pluto, was the reason that the IAU developed the definition of a planet and created the new classification of dwarf planets.
- Discovered By: Michael E. Brown, Chad Trujillo, David Rabinowitz
- Date Discovered: March 31, 2005
- Diameter/Equitorial: 1,434 km Diameter/Polar 1,422 km
- Mass: 2-5 × 10^21 kg (0.04 Moons)
- Orbit Distance: 6,850,000,000 km (45.79 AU)
- Orbital Period: 309.9 years
- Surface Temperature: -239 degrees C
- Moons: 1 (MK 2 – S/2015 (136472) 1)
The dwarf planet known as Makemake was first observed by a team of astronomers in March, 2005 at the Palomar Observatory, that included M.E. Brown, C.A. Trujillo, and D. Rabinowitz. It was called 2005 FY9 and considered to be a planetoid. The team gave it the nickname of “Easterbunny” because of the timing of the discovery. While observing Makemake the team also discovered the dwarf planet Eris as well as the controversial finding of the dwarf planet Haumea.
Makemake was named after the mythological god of fertility of the Rapa Nui tribe that love in the southeastern Pacific Ocean Easter Island. Makemake was the creator of humanity, the chief god, and the god of fertility.
The brightness of Makemake is so good that astronomers using high-tech sophisticated telescopes can see the dwarf planet as it passes in front of a star. This process is called “occultation” and was used in both the discovery of the dwarf planet as well as confirming that Makemake lacks any atmosphere.
In 2015, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope let astronomers gaze out to discover that Makemake has its own satellite or moon. The official designation of this tiny satellite is S/2015 (136472) 1.
The dwarf planet of Makemake is at a far distant area of the Kuiper Belt outside of Neptune’s orbit. This area contains thousands of small icy objects which are believed to have been formed about 4.5 billion years ago in the early history of the creation of our solar system. The objects in this realm are known as KBO’s (Kuiper Belt objects), transneptunian object (TNO’s), or plutoids.
Surface and Structure:
Since Makemake is so far away and there hasn’t been any spacecraft that has visited its area, scientists know very little about Makemakes structure and details.
From what scientists have been able to see with high-powered Earth-based and satellite telescopes, they think that Makemake is a reddish-brown color that looks similar to Pluto. Researchers have also found that its surface has frozen methane and ethane and it also may have frozen methane pellets that could be as large as ½ in/1 cm in diameter that lay on top of the icy cold surface.
Atmosphere and Magnetosphere:
Scientists have found that Makemake may have a very thin atmosphere that consists of mainly nitrogen, but the atmosphere is temporary. When Makemake achieves an orbit that is closest to the sun some of the ice melts and turns into a gas that creates a thin atmosphere.
When Makemake leaves the warmth of the sun and enters the colder regions, it doesn’t have any gravity to hold the atmosphere so it escapes into space.
Scientists don’t know if there is any magnetosphere on Makemake.
Rotation and Orbit:
Makemake only has a radius of around 444 mi/715 km, and this makes it around 1/9th of Earth’s radius. To understand a comparison, it Earth was the size of a nickel, Makemake would be a mustard-seed size.
This little dwarf planet is around 4,253,000,000 mi/6,847,000,000 km away, making it 45.8 AU (astronomical unit) from the sun. An AU is the measurement of distance from the Earth to the sun. Makemake is so far away that it takes sunlight 6 hrs and 20 min to make it from the sun to Makemake.
Scientists believe that Makemake is covered in ice and that’s the reason that it is one of the brightest objects in the outer solar system. It’s about 2/3 the size of Pluto and its orbit is beyond that of Pluto, but closer to the sun than one of the other dwarf planets, Eris. It takes Makemake almost 310 Earth-years to complete an orbit around the sun.
Astronomers watched as Makemake passed in front of a star to do the research to see if it had any atmosphere. The scientists found out that it doesn’t have any atmosphere. They were surprised at the results because Pluto and Makemake are very similar and Pluto has a very thin atmosphere.
During the same research the astronomers calculated the amount of light that Makemake reflected, and the results came back that it was comparable to dirty snow.
All of the dwarf planets, except Ceres, travels through the area of rock and ice on the outer edges of the solar system known as the Kuiper Belt. Makemake makes a trip as far out as fifty three times the distance between the sun and the Earth, and can come as close as thirty eight times the distance between the sun and the Earth during its orbit.
Makemake rotates on it axis every 22.5 hours, which makes its day a bit shorter than an Earth day. It takes Makemake 305 Earth years to make a complete orbit around the sun.
One provisional moon or satellite does orbit around Makemake. Although its nickname is MK 2, its official designation is S/2015 (136472) 1. MK 2 is around 13,000 mi from Makemake and has a radius of about 50 mi/80 km.
The Hubble Space Telescope images show that MK 2 is dark charcoal colored which also surprised scientists because Makemake is so bright.
Astronomers think that the gravity on MK 2 is too weak to cling onto the ice that makes Makemake so reflective and it leaves the surface of the little moon and enters space.
Previous research of Makemake didn’t show the little moon, however, I April 2015, they used the Hubble Wide Field Camera 3 and spotted the satellite.
The moon seems to orbit edge-on so unless researchers caught it just right, it would have been lost to sight due to the brightness of Makemake. Astronomers are doing additional research to try to figure out MK 2’s orbit shape around Makemake. The orbit can give hints about how it might have been formed.
If the little moon has a circular, tight orbit it may have been created due to an impact from long ago. If the orbit is elliptical, looping it might suggest that MK 2 could have been an independent object in the Kuiper Belt that Makemake captured.
No rings have been discovered around Makemake
Could Life Exist?
Makemake has an extremely cold surface and doesn’t have the requirements that could support life as we know it.
- The temperatures on Makemake make it extremely cold. The lowest temperature is around -243.2 degrees C.
- The cold surface of Makemake freezes the methane, ethane, and nitrogen into ices.
- One orbital trip around the sun for Makemake takes nearing 305 Earth years.
- Makemake is one of the few dwarf planets that is bright enough to see with high-powered telescopes.
- Makemake is located very close to the Milky Way when William Tombaugh discovered Pluto, so the dense quantity of stars made it impossible to detect the dwarf planet.
- Scientists expected that Makemake would have an atmosphere, and it doesn’t. They thought that since MakeMake and Pluto were so similar, that it would have a thin atmosphere like the other dwarf planet. If it had developed an atmosphere it would have been made up of methane and nitrogen.
- Scientists found out Makemake doesn’t have an atmosphere when it passed in front of an 18th-magnitude star on April 23, 2011.
No manmade satellites or missions have been sent to explore Makemake. All research for Makemake has been done using ground-based and space satellite telescopes.
2005: Researchers at the Palomar Observatory made their first observation with ground-based telescopes.
2008: The International Astronomical Union (IAU) confirms recognition of Makemake as a dwarf planet.
2016: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope discovered a dark, small moon in Makemake’s orbit.
Facts about Makemake for Kids:
- If Makemake had been in a different part of its orbit in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh could have discovered it at the same time that he discovered Pluto.
- Makemake is considered to be a “classical” object in the Kuiper Belt. This is defined as an object that has an orbit that lies far enough from Neptune so that it isn’t affected by the gravity that Neptune has and will continue to remain stable over time in the solar system.
- It took three years for the IAU to name Makemake after its discovery in 2008.
- The name for Makemake was suggested based on the close discovery time of the Easter holiday and they carried it a step further by using the mythological gods from the Rapa Nui tribe on Easter Island.
- Makemake’s diameter is around 880 mi making it three times the size of the Grand Canyon, which is 277 mi long.
- Makemake is the 25thlargest object in our solar system.
- It is due to the discovery of Makemake and another dwarf planet, Eris, that the IAU made the decision to redefine what a planet was, establish the classification of dwarf planet, and downgrade Pluto.
- The moon orbiting Makemake is only around 105 miles wide.
- Scientists are using Makemake’s moon as a way to try to map Makemake.
- A majority of information about Makemake remains a mystery. Scientists aren’t sure how its orbit or day/night cycles might affect the surface of Makemake.