Makemake is one of the dwarf planets in the Solar System and is located in the Kuiper Belt.
Mass: 3 x 1021 kg (estimate)
Composition: Methane, ethane and nitrogen
Orbit: 7.8 × 109 km from the Sun
Makemake was first seen in March 2005 at the Palomar Observatory in California by three scholars carrying out a survey. The team led by Professor Mike Brown included Chad Trujillo and David Rabinowitz. They gave the new planet the unofficial name of Easterbunny, as it was discovered around the time of Easter that year. It was only when the discovery was confirmed in 2008 by the International Astronomical Union that it was given the official name of Makemake.
When Makemake was discovered, it was around the same time that Eris was a contender to be named as the tenth planet of the Solar System. It was during this period that clarification was sought from the International Astronomical Union on the true definition of a planet. As a result of this discussion, Makemake and Eris were classified as dwarf planets. Because Eris is bigger than Pluto, Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet. Other known dwarf planets in the Solar System are Ceres and Haumea.
Makemake takes its name from the Rapanui god of fertility. The Rapanui are native people of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. There is an assumed link between the Easter Island reference and the fact that Makemake was discovered at Easter time. Along with Makemake, two of the other dwarf planets, Eris and Haumea, are also named after mythological gods of fertility.
The surface of Makemake is composed of frozen methane, ethane and nitrogen. This dwarf planet appears red in colour, which could be attributed to tholins. Tholins are created when solar rays react with methane and ethane. Like Eris, Makemake is a cold planet because it orbits at such a great distance from the Sun. The icy conditions mean that the gases on its surface have frozen.
Makemake orbits the Sun every 310 years. Its plane lies outside of the Solar System’s plane, past the Kuiper Belt. The Kuiper Belt is an area of space containing a collection of icy objects and is located beyond Neptune’s orbit. Makemake has no known satellites of its own.
A satellite usually provides a good way of working out a celestial object’s size and mass. However, unlike the other dwarf planets in the Solar System, Makemake does not have any known moons. This absence of satellites around Makemake makes it difficult to accurately measure it, but estimations have been made that suggest that it is just larger than Haumea but smaller than both Pluto and Eris.