New Delhi: The US space agency NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a small, dark Moon orbiting the dwarf planet Makemake.
Makemake is the second brightest icy dwarf planet after Pluto in the Kuiper Belt.
This Hubble image reveals the first moon ever discovered around the dwarf planet Makemake.
Photo Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Parker and M. Buie (SwRI)
The moon is nicknamed as MK 2 and provisionally designated S/2015 (136472) 1 is more than 1,300 times fainter than the dwarf planet Makemake.
MK 2 was seen approximately 13,000 miles from the dwarf planet and its diameter is estimated to be 100 miles across. Makemake is 870 miles wide.
Discovered in 2005, the dwarf planet is named for a creation deity of the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island.
The Kuiper Belt is a vast reservoir of leftover frozen material from the construction of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago and home to several dwarf planets. Makemake is one of five dwarf planets recognized by the International Astronomical Union.
The observations were made in April 2015 with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. Hubble’s unique ability to see faint objects near bright ones, together with its sharp resolution, allowed astronomers to pluck out the moon from Makemake’s glare.
Astronomers will need more Hubble observations to make accurate measurements to determine if the moon’s orbit is elliptical or circular. Preliminary estimates indicate that if the Moon is in a circular orbit, it completes a circuit around Makemake in 12 days or longer.
A tight circular orbit means that MK 2 is probably the product of a collision between Makemake and another Kuiper Belt Object. But if the moon is in a wide, elongated orbit, it is more likely to be a captured object from the Kuiper Belt. Either it would have likely occurred several billion years ago, when the solar system was young.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope.
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Video credit: NASA Goddard