Makemake is one of the five known dwarf planets in our solar system. It was discovered in 2005 and is located far out in the outer solar system within the Kuiper belt.
Key Facts & Summary
- It was discovered on March 31, 2005, by a team of astronomers at the Palomar Observatory who also discovered the dwarf planet Eris.
- Its discovery along with that of Eris and Haumea contributed to Pluto’s reclassification as a planet to a dwarf planet.
- It was the fourth dwarf planet to be discovered. This included Pluto who was reclassified.
- Makemake has one satellite, a dim lightened moon that was named MK 2.
- Makemake is large enough and bright enough to be studied by high-end amateur telescopes.
- Makemake is about a fifth as bright as Pluto. It is dimmer than Pluto yet brighter than Eris.
- Makemake has a radius of about 444 miles or 715 kilometers, it’s 1/9 the radius of Earth.
- Like other dwarf planets, it travels through the Kuiper Belt.
- A day on Makemake lasts about 22.5 hours.
- Makemake is about 45.8 AU away from the sun and about 53.2 AU away from Earth, however, these values are constantly and rapidly changing, for an accurate and present statistic one can check its location online as Makemake is constantly tracked.
- It takes about 7 hours and 22 minutes for Makemake’s light to reach Earth.
- It is the second furthest dwarf planet from the Sun and the third-largest known dwarf planet in the Solar System.
Makemake Facts and History
The discovery of Makemake was publicly announced on July 29, 2005. The astronomer, Michael E. Brown led the team that discovered the object at the Palomar Observatory located in San Diego.
For a period of time, when the discovery was made public, Makemake received a provisional designation, 2005 FY9. Before this, however, the discovery team used the codename “Easterbunny” because the dwarf planet was discovered shortly after Easter.
In July 2008, in accordance with IAU rules for classical Kuiper belt objects, the dwarf planet was named after a deity. Makemake was the name of the god of humanity and fertility in the myths of the Rapa Nui, the native people of Easter Island. Thus the name was chosen to preserve the object’s connection with Easter.
Makemake is luckier than Ceres since it’s located with its other fellow dwarf planets Eris, Pluto and Haumea, in the Kuiper Belt, a region outside of Neptune’s orbit. It is the second-brightest object in the Kuiper Belt with Pluto being the brightest.
The Kuiper Belt is a group of objects that orbit in a disc-like zone beyond the orbit of Neptune. This faraway realm is populated with thousands of miniature icy worlds, which formed early in the history of our Solar System about 4.5 billion years ago.
Distance, Size and Mass
Makemake has a radius of approximately 444 miles or 715 kilometers, it is 1/9 the radius of Earth. It has a diameter of about 1,430 kilometers. It’s like the size of a mustard seed in comparison to a nickel. The distance from the Sun is quite big, about 45.8 AU away and 53.2 AU away from Earth.
It is about two-thirds the size of Pluto and about three times the size of the 277-mile-long Grand Canyon, thus making it the 25th largest object in our Solar System. Its mass is estimated to be in the vicinity of 4 x 10²¹ kg or about 4,000,000,000 trillion kg, which is the equivalent of 0.00067 Earths.
Orbit and Rotation
The orbital period of Makemake is estimated to be around 310 years. Its orbit lies far enough from Neptune to remain stable over the edge of the Solar System. It has a slightly eccentric orbit which ranges from 38.5 AU at perihelion to 52.8 AU at aphelion.
The rotation period is estimated to be at 22.83 hours, relatively long for a dwarf planet and about 7.77 Earth hours to complete one sidereal rotation. These statistics suggest that a single day on Makemake is less than 8 hours, while a year lasts about 112.897 days. A reason for this may be attributed to a tidal acceleration from Makemake’s satellite. Another suggestion is that Makemake may have a second undiscovered satellite that would explain its unusually long rotation.
Geology and Atmosphere
Similar to Pluto, it appears red in the visible spectrum and significantly redder than the surface of Eris. The spectral signature of Makemake’s methane is much stronger than that of Pluto and Eris. The analysis revealed that methane must be present in the form of large grains at least one centimeter in size.
Large amounts of ethane, tholins and small amounts of ethylene, acetylene and high-mass alkanes like propane may be present, likely created by photolysis of methane by solar radiation. Tholins may be responsible for the red color of the visible spectrum. Some data claims there is also a low level of nitrogen ice, the relative lack of this may be attributed to some sort of depletion over the age of the Solar System. However, even in low levels the presence of methane ice would turn to a red color if exposed to solar radiation for a period of time.
According to the findings of astronomer Javier Licandro and his colleagues, Makemake has a bright surface with an estimated albedo of 0.81, resembling Pluto.
The atmosphere of Makemake remained a mystery for a period of time. In 2011 an occultation occurred between it and an 18-th magnitude star, the star had all its light blocked by Makemake.
These results concluded that the dwarf planet lacked a substantial atmosphere, contradicting earlier assumptions that its atmosphere was similar to Pluto’s. But this can change, through the presence of methane and possibly nitrogen. It is believed that Makemake could have a transient atmosphere similar to Pluto, when it reaches its closest point in orbit near the sun.
With this nearing, nitrogen and other ices would sublimate, forming a tenuous atmosphere composed of nitrogen gas and hydrocarbons. This would also provide an explanation towards the nitrogen depletion, which could have been lost through the process of atmospheric escape.
Makemake has one natural moon that was nicknamed MK 2. It was discovered in 2016 by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3. There is however speculation that it could have a second undiscovered satellite, which would explain its unusually long rotation.
MK 2 Size and Orbit
MK 2 is estimated to be around 175 kilometers in diameter for an assumed albedo of 4%, and around 90 kilometers in radius. Its orbital period is around 12 days. It is estimated that it that its semi-major axis is at least 21.000 kilometers from Makemake. The actual orbit eccentricity is unknown.
Brightness and further observations
Preliminary examinations suggest that MK2 has a reflectivity similar to that of charcoal, making it an extremely dark object. In fact, this is quite surprising as Makemake is the second brightest known object in the Kuiper belt, while its discovered moon is about 1.300 times fainter. Many things remain to be answered about Makemake and its moon, thus observations continue.
The temperature on Makemake is usually around -406 degrees Fahrenheit or – 243 degrees Celsius. Life as we know it cannot exist in such cold places.
Future plans for Makemake
From recent calculations with the current technology, it is estimated that a flyby mission to Makemake could take aproximatively 16 years with the help of Jupiter’s gravity assist. Based on a launch date of 2024 or 2036, Makemake would by then be approximately 52 AU from the sun when the spacecraft arrives.
However, there are no expeditions set for Makemake yet, though its mysteriousness and our lack of information about it, it’s certainly a strong point for a future expedition and ongoing observation.
Did you know?
– Makemake is approaching its aphelion, it is estimated to happen in 2033.
– Makemake is a classical Kuiper belt object, meaning that its orbit lies far enough from Neptune to remain stable over the edge of the Solar System.
– Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930, was one step away from also claiming the discovery of Makemake. Makemake was bright enough to be discovered by Clyde, however the dwarf planet was at the moment a few degrees from the ecliptic, this position made it impossible to be seen.
– Though it is 53.2 AU away from Earth, its closest approach will happen in 2100 being about 47 AU away.
– The public declaration of its discovery was hastened by the fact that another team of astronomers in Spain, declared the discovery of the dwarf planet Haumea, whom the team in San Diego were already tracking.
– The discovery of Makemake,Eris and Haumea were responsible for Pluto’s drop in status from a planet to a dwarf planet. In 2006 the International Astronomical Union created the new category of bodies named “dwarf planets”. This also shaped the classifications needed in order for an object to be considered a planet: A planet circles the sun but isn’t orbiting anything else, it must be large enough to be rounded by its own gravity, and it has cleared its neighborhood of orbiting bodies.
[1.] MPEC 2009-P26 :Distant Minor Planets (2009 AUG. 17.0 TT)”. IAU Minor Planet Center. 2009-08-07
[2.] Brown, Mike (2008). “Mike Brown’s Planets: What’s in a name? (part 2)”. California Institute of Technology.
[3.] Brown, Mike (2008). “Mike Brown’s Planets: Make-make”. California Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2008-07-14
[4.] Robert D. Craig (2004). Handbook of Polynesian Mythology. ABC-CLIO. p. 63.
[5.] M.E. Brown (2013). “On the size, shape, and density of dwarf planet Makemake”. The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 767 (1): L7(5pp). arXiv:1304.1041v1. Bibcode:2013ApJ…767L…7B. doi:10.1088/2041-8205/767/1/L7.
[6.] Mike Brown; K. M. Barksume; G. L. Blake; E. L. Schaller; et al. (2007). “Methane and Ethane on the Bright Kuiper Belt Object 2005 FY9” (PDF). The Astronomical Journal. 133 (1): 284–289.