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Makemake's 'Alien Moon' Discovered at Kuiper Belt

Jun 29, 2016 03:33 AM EDT
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There's more the Kuiper Belt than the four dwarf planets populating the region. An elusive dark moon was discovered orbiting Makemake, one of the known Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) in the region.
(Photo : NASA and G. Bacon/Getty Images)

There can never be enough moons. Another mysterious moon was discovered orbiting Makemake, one of the four dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt.

Some refer to it as an "alien moon" because it has lurked in the darkness for years before it was finally discovered, according to a report by the Sun. The Kuiper belt is a dark and frozen region where celestial bodies are known to collide with each other and where very few bodies are recognized and discovered including Makemake, one of the four dwarf planets populating the region. Makemake is one of the brightest and largest Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) known today

Scientists from the Southwest Research Institute discovered a "dark moon" orbiting Makemake, one of the big four dwarf planets that are populating the Kuiper Belt at the edge of the Solar System. The discovery was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letter last June 27.

"Makemake's moon proves that there are still wild things waiting to be discovered, even in places people have already looked," Dr. Alex Parker, lead author of the paper said in an interview with Science Daily. "Makemake's moon -- nicknamed MK2 -- is very dark, 1,300 times fainter than the dwarf planet," Parker added.

The Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 spotted a faint point of light close to the dwarf planet. It is considered an "elusive" moon because its near-edge orbital configuration helped it avoid initial detection. The Kuiper Belt is located at the edge of the Solar System, it made the study on the region more complex.

The football-shaped dwarf planet covered in frozen methane was discovered in 2005. Makemake's dark moon is believed to be 100 miles wide about 870 miles away from its parent dwarf planet.

The discovery of Makemake's planet can help scientists understand the mass and density of the dwarf planet. "We can contrast the orbits and properties of the parent dwarf and its moon, to understand the origin and history of the system. We can compare Makemake and its moon to other systems, and broaden our understanding of the processes that shaped the evolution of our solar system," Parker said according to a report by Phys.Org.

Aside from that, the discovery of once-hidden moon can mean those other KBOs may have their own hidden moons as well.

 

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