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Makemake the Dwarf Planet

Makemake, possibly pronounced as Makimaki or as Mah-Kay Mah-Kay, was discovered in March 2005 at Palomar Observatory by a team led by Mike Brown.  Since this was close to Easter, the object was named after a God associated with Easter Island.

Makemake is about three quarters the size of Pluto, making it the third largest dwarf planet so far discovered. Like Pluto, its orbit is beyond that of Neptune, so it is classed as a Plutoid or trans-Neptunian object.  It can also be described as a Kuiper Belt Object.


As is typical of the dwarf planets so far discovered, the orbit of Makemake is further from plane of the ecliptic than any of the planets, being inclined by about 29 degrees. It takes about 310 Earth years to complete one of its orbits round the Sun.  This compares with Pluto which takes about 249 Earth years.  At its furthest from the Sun Makemake is about 53 Astronomical Units, AI, (An Astronomical Unit is the distance of the Earth from the Sun), and at its closest about 39 AI.


Makemake appears to be made mainly of ice and rock, although at its temperature, ice effectively is a type of rock.  As it says in the Christmas carol "In the Bleak Mid Winter": "Earth stood as hard as iron, water like a stone".

Temperature and Atmosphere

The temperature at the moment on Makemake is probable about minus 240 degrees C (minus 400 degrees F).  The atmosphere probably has Methane, Ethane and Nitrogen all frozen so the surface appears bright.  When this dwarf planet is closest to the Sun, some of the atmosphere may turn back into gas.


So far no moon has been discovered orbiting Makemake. But we do not yet know a lot about this object.  For example we don’t even know how fast it rotates or even if it does.  Naturally, we also cannot know the inclination of its axis of rotation.


Of course something as cold as Makemake could not have life on it; except that we only know about the types of life on Earth. We do not even know for sure that life even exists outside our own planet, so it is difficult to be absolutely certain that such apparently inhospitable places as Makemake really have no life.

Picture taken with the Hubble Space Telescope.
An artist's impression of Makemake
By Ann Feild (Space Telescope Science Institute.)