The spirit of Prince may be alive and well in a rather unlikely place. Yesterday, NASA discovered a purple moon revolving around Pluto’s neighbor, Makemake. Besides coincidently appearing around the same time as the purple-clad rock star’s death, this discovery appears to help solve a puzzle that has bothered astronomers for years.
NEW MOON FOUND IN MYSTERIOUS KUIPER BELT
Since 2006, NASA astronomers have been using the Hubble Space Telescope to search for any odd companions that Pluto may have out there. Their results haven’t produced anything substantial until now. Yesterday, Minor Planet Center and Space Telescope Science Institute showed pictures of an object traveling with Makemake, a dwarf planet near Pluto. It was found traveling through the ever mysterious Kuiper Belt on April 27, 2015, but just two days later, it was not to be found.
LIKE PLUTO, MAKEMAKE IS PLAYING GAMES
The odd hide and seek like qualities of Makemake’s new satellite had NASA scratching their heads until they concluded that the moon was simply hiding in the glare of Makemake. That is likely if they are seeing the satellite’s orbital edge as close to Makemake. For example, a tighter orbit would have a period of 12 days and the moon would only be available about half the time. At the moment, this isn’t proven evidence, just NASA’s theory. The Hubble images don’t clearly show the orbit yet so the satellites orbit could be a wide range of degrees. That being said, this new discovery helps NASA solve a puzzle that has bugged astronomers for years.
PIECES TO THE PUZZLE
Similar to when NASA discovered Charon orbiting around Pluto, this new discovery unveils some new pieces to the puzzle of the Kuiper Belt. For one, if Makemake’s moon is an edge-on orbit, mutual events between Makemake and its moon will begin. The same events happened when Pluto and Charon periodically passed in front of and behind each other in the late 1980’s. Additionally, if Makemake’s mood is perpendicular to its axis, then the whole system might be tipped significantly. This signifies Makemake is near an equinox during its 309-year trek around the sun. Lastly, this discovery proves that all four of the Kuiper Belt’s dwarf planets possess at least one satellite. This supports the concept that major collisions are universal in the creation of this far off planets.