Hubble spots dwarf planet Makemake’s moon

Image: Makemake and MK 2
An artist’s conception shows the distant dwarf planet Makemake with its dark moon, MK 2, lurking to the right. (Credit: NASA / ESA / A. Parker / SwRI)

Chalk up another moon for the dwarf planets: Astronomers have sifted through imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope to find a tiny satellite circling Makemake.

Makemake (pronounced Mah-kay-mah-kay, like the Rapa Nui deity after which it’s named) is one of the five dwarf planets recognized by the International Astronomical Union, along with Pluto, Eris, Haumea and Ceres. It’s more than 50 times farther away from the sun than Earth is, which translates to a distance of 4.8 billion miles.

With a diameter of 870 miles, Makemake is the third-largest known solar system object beyond the orbit of Neptune, in a wide ring of icy material called the Kuiper Belt. (Planet Nine, a.k.a. Planet X, would change the order if it exists, but it hasn’t yet been found.)

Like Eris, the dwarf planet that stirred up all the fuss over Pluto’s planetary status, Makemake was discovered in 2005 by a team led by Caltech astronomer Mike Brown. Like Pluto, Makemake is thought to be covered in frozen methane.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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