Using the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists have discovered a new moon in our solar system, orbiting a distant dwarf planet called Makemake. The tiny moon is estimated to be only about 100 miles across, and Makemake, the dwarf planet it orbits, is just 870 miles wide.
For comparison, the Earth’s moon is more than twice as big as Makemake, at 2159 miles in diameter.
Like Pluto, Makemake is a small ice world located beyond Neptune and is considered to be a dwarf planet, not a planet proper. It is located so far from the Sun that it takes 310 Earth years for the dwarf planet to make one orbit.
NASA says that previous searches around Makemake for a satellite had revealed nothing because of its glare. Studying this new little moon can help scientists understand more about Makemake’s mass, the space agency says.
“Makemake is in the class of rare Pluto-like objects, so finding a companion is important,” Alex Parker, of Southwest Research Institute, in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement. “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.”
Other dwarf planets besides Makemake and Pluto are Ceres, Eris, and the egg-shaped Haumea. Both Haumea and Makemake’s names refer to deities of fertility; Haumea refers to a Hawaiian goddess and Makemake to an Easter Island god.
NASA says that Makemake was first discovered in 2005 and that its codename at the time was “Easterbunny.”
Makemake’s new moon is known as M2.