July 21, 2008

Dwarf Planet Near Pluto Receives Name

According to the International Astronomical Union, a dwarf planet beyond Neptune has been given the name Makemake, and has been designated the third plutoid in the solar system.

The red, methane-covered Makemake, formerly known as "Easterbunny" or 2005 FY9, is named after the Polynesian god of fertility and creator of humanity.

Last month the International Astronomical Union, which names heavenly bodies, created a new rank of sub-planets called plutoids.

The other two plutoids are Eris, and newly demoted Pluto, which used to be classified as a planet. Ceres, a fourth dwarf planet, was not included as a plutoid because its orbit travels through the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Makemake, which was recently discovered shortly after Easter in 2005, is slightly smaller and dimmer than Pluto.

"The orbit is not particularly strange, but the object itself is big, probably about two-thirds the size of Pluto," said Mike Brown who discovered and named Makemake (pronounced MAH-keh MAH-keh).

The discovery of these trans-Neptunian bodies led the Astronomical Union to re-consider what it meant to be a planet.

According to Brown, the name Makemake came to him as he looked for a mythological god and thought of the South Pacific's Easter Island.  The god Makemake was the chief deity among the original inhabitants of the island.


Image Caption: An artist's impression of (136472) Makemake (previously known as 2005 FY9). Courtesy NASA


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