Astronomy,  News

A Good Time to Observe Dwarf Planet Makemake

Dwarf Planet Makemake With Moon
Artist’s view of dwarf planet Makemake. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Parker and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute), W. Grundy (Lowell Observatory), and K. Noll (NASA GSFC).

On March 29, we have a great opportunity to observe the dwarf planet Makemake. It will be at opposition, which means it will reach the highest point in the sky at around midnight and be opposite to the Sun.

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At around the same time Makemake will also reach its closest point to the Earth (perigee) at a distance of 51.77 AU. Its peak brightness will be an apparent magnitude of 17.1, which makes it the brightest trans-Neptunian object after Pluto.

Despite this, you will need a 4 inch telescope at least. Look in the constellation of Coma Berenices. If you miss it, you can still see it for many days to come, because it has a large orbit and so it takes a long time for it to move away from the point of perigee.

See more information and other astronomical events in our stargazing calendar for March 2023.

Coma Berenices Constellation Map IAU
Coma Berenices Constellation Map. Credit: IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg). License: CC BY 3.0.

Makemake was discovered on March 31, 2005 by a team led by astronomer Michael E. Brown. Originally it was nicknamed “Easterbunny” because it was discovered shortly after Easter. But later it was officially named after Makemake, the creator of humanity, the god of fertility and the chief god in the Polynesian Rapa Nui mythology of Easter Island. It was given a minor-planet designation of 136472 Makemake.

Makemake With Moon Photo By Hubble Telescope
Dwarf planet Makemake with its moon. Photo Credit: ESA/Hubble. License: CC BY 4.0.

This dwarf planet is one of the largest objects of the Kuiper belt. It has a diameter of slightly over 14000 km, which is about 60% that of Pluto. Makemake is a classical Kuiper belt object (KBO), which means it orbits far beyond Neptune in a stable orbit as shown below in green.

Quaoar Haumea Makemake Orbits
Quaoar Haumea Makemake Orbits. Image Credit: Tom Ruen. License: CC BY-SA 4.0.

So far one moon of about 175 km in diameter was discovered around Makemake, with the help of Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3. It was designated S/2015 (136472) 1 and nicknamed MK2. An official name still hasn’t been selected, but it will most likely be named after a deity associated with Makemake from the mythology of Easter Island.

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Paul Tomaszewski is a science & tech writer as well as a programmer and entrepreneur. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of CosmoBC. He has a degree in computer science from John Abbott College, a bachelor's degree in technology from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, and completed some business and economics classes at Concordia University in Montreal. While in college he was the vice-president of the Astronomy Club. In his spare time he is an amateur astronomer and enjoys reading or watching science-fiction. You can follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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