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Makemake Facts And History: “Easter Bunny” Dwarf Planet!

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From its interesting name, to its composition, discovery, and more! Join me as we explore MakeMake: Facts and History!
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9. What Is MakeMake?
Given the rather odd name for the object, you’d be forgiven for not knowing exactly what this entity is on its title alone. It’s a Dwarf Planet, and possibly one of the biggest in our solar system.
Along with fellow dwarf planets Pluto, Eris and Haumea, it is located in the Kuiper Belt, a region outside the orbit of Neptune. Slightly smaller than Pluto, Makemake is the second-brightest object in the Kuiper Belt as seen from Earth (while Pluto is the brightest).
This particular dwarf planet holds an important place in the history of solar system studies because it—along with Eris—was one of the objects whose discovery prompted the International Astronomical Union to reconsider the definition of a planet and to create the new group of dwarf planets. Of which Pluto would be demoted from a full planet to a dwarf planet. Leaving many to wonder what would’ve happened if this particular set of objects were never discovered at all. Would Pluto still be a planet today?
The dwarf planet was named after the Rapanui god of fertility. If you don’t know, these are the people who lived on Easter Island.
8. The Discovery
Makemake was discovered on March 31, 2005, by a team at the Palomar Observatory, led by Michael E. Brown, and was announced to the public in July of 2005. The team had planned to delay announcing their discoveries of it and Eris until further observations and calculations were complete, but announced them both on July 29 when the discovery of another large object they had been tracking, Haumea, was controversially announced on July 27 by a different team in Spain. There was a bit of a fight over this, but that’s another story entirely.
Despite its relative brightness (it is about a fifth as bright as Pluto), Makemake was not discovered until after many much fainter Kuiper belt objects. Which no doubt struck the team finding it as odd, among other things.
Most searches for minor planets are conducted relatively close to the ecliptic (the region of the sky that the Sun, Moon and planets appear to lie in, as seen from Earth), due to the greater likelihood of finding objects there. It probably escaped detection during the earlier surveys due to its relatively high orbital inclination, and the fact that it was at its farthest distance from the ecliptic at the time of its discovery, in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices.
Besides Pluto, Makemake is the only other dwarf planet that was bright enough that Clyde Tombaugh could have detected it during his search for trans-Neptunian planets around 1930. At the time of Tombaugh’s survey, it was only a few degrees from the ecliptic, near the border of Taurus and Auriga, at an apparent magnitude of 16.0. This position, however, was also very near the Milky Way, and the dwarf planet would have been almost impossible to find against the dense background of stars. Tombaugh continued searching for some years after the discovery of Pluto, but he did not find Makemake or any other trans-Neptunian objects. Which is now very ironic due to all the various objects we’ve found in that area since Pluto. Going to show that while the early astronomers were incredibly talented, they did have their limits based on the technology that they wielded.
7. Orbit
As of April 2019, Makemake is 52.5 AU from the Sun, almost as far from the Sun as it ever reaches on its orbit. The dwarf planet follows an orbit very similar to that of Haumea: highly inclined at 29° and a moderate eccentricity of about 0.16.
But still, its orbit is slightly farther from the Sun in terms of both the semi-major axis and perihelion. Its orbital period is 305 years approximately, more than Pluto’s 248 years and Haumea’s 285 years. Both it and Haumea are currently far from the ecliptic (at an angular distance of almost 29°). However, it is approaching its 2033 aphelion, whereas Haumea passed its aphelion in early 1992.
To put its orbit into context, a human life averages around 70-80 years, but there have been many who have reached 100 or over, so for it to go around the sun once via its orbit is like those people living three lifetimes. Which would be quite a feat indeed.

Credits: Ron Miller
Credits: Nasa

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