Science

Makemake: Pluto's Sister Planet Has Tiny Moon That Orbits Around It

By Victor Thomson , Apr 29, 2016 04:54 AM EDT

A team of astronomers has announced the discovery of a new moon in our Solar System, orbiting the dwarf planet Makemake.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, the tiny moon about 100 miles in diameter, orbiting the dwarf planet called Makemake, was found and photographed with the help of NASA's 26-year-old Hubble telescope.

This newest addition to the knowledge about our solar system was tentatively designated S/2015 (136472), or MK 2 for short, according to NASA. The discovery could enhance our understanding of the enigmatic nature of minor planets traversing the Kuiper Belt.

Gizmag reports that Makemake is one of five officially recognized minor planets including Pluto that are located in the Kuiper Belt. The dwarf planet was discovered in 2005, and since then, a number of attempts have been made to ascertain whether it has one or more satellite moons.

MK 2 remained undiscovered until now due to the characteristics of Makemake's surface. Makemake is covered in a dense layer of methane ice, much like Pluto.

Because of the ice's reflective properties, the dwarf planet shines up to 1,300 times brighter than MK 2. This way, the moon could remain cloaked in the glare of the planetoid.

Astronomers were finally able to discover the elusive moon only with Hubble's high-resolution Wide Field Camera 3. MK 2 is estimated to have a diameter of only 100 miles (161 km) across. The moon orbits Makemake at a distance of 13,000 miles (20,921 km).

According to the initial observations, MK 2 traverses an almost circular trajectory with a 12-day orbital period. To confirm this first impression, further analysis of the moon's orbit will be needed.

The theory that MK 2 collided with Makemake at some point in the last several billion years and was subsequently drawn in to a stable orbit by the planet's gravitational field would be supported by the confirmation of a circular orbit. The presence of the Makemake's MK 2 moon could also explain a previous detection of increased infrared emissions from the planetoid.

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