The universe is full of secrets, and from time to time, we are blessed enough to find some of them. A new moon has just been discovered by a team of astronomers; it is located near the outer part of our solar system. The research has been documented in a paper published on arXiv.org.
The moon, bearing the temporary name of ‘S/2015 (136472) 1’ and more commonly being called ‘MK 2’, orbits an extremely bright icy dwarf planet known as Makemake. They are situated beyond Pluto in the Kuiper belt. The size of Makemake’s satellite is around 161 km in diameter. How come has it remained hidden from us for so long? Blame the marvellous interplay of brightness and darkness.
MK 2 happens to be super dark such that it has been able to remain undetected. The fact that it reflects only very, very little light while its planet is so bright (the second brightest dwarf planet) – Makemake is actually 1,300 brighter – has made its cover almost perfect. Before this discovery, Makemake was considered to be the only distant dwarf planet with no satellite.
The dark, mysterious moon was spotted for the first time by astronomer Alex Parker, from the Southwest Research Institute based in Texas. When observing Makemake with the Hubble Space Telescope, he noticed a faintly-lit object orbiting the planet about 20,900 km away. This information was, of course surprising.
“I was sure someone had seen it already,” Parker said in a statement to National Geographic. When he mentioned this to his colleague Marc Buie, the latter replied with: “There’s a moon in the Makemake data?”
Now, scientists will be focusing on studying MK 2 with the aim of gleaning more information about the icy dwarf planet itself.
“Makemake is in the class of rare Pluto-like objects, so finding a companion is important,” said Parker. “The discovery of this moon has given us an opportunity to study Makemake in far greater detail than we ever would have been able to without the companion.”
What’s even more exciting is that it might be possible for NASA’s New Horizons to stop by Makemake when it goes out of the solar system.