NASA Educational Materials



Full moons make for a wonderful setting for criminal activity, as we find in detective novels. It's that night when the gruesome murderer commits the ghastly crime and is seen by a non-descript, aged neighbor. The neighbor's claim to credibility in the witness box is the fact that there was a full moon on the night in question and everything was there for all to see; it was only a matter of chance that he or she was the only one to spot it! Full moon nights also offer the perfect cover for the snooping detective to hide behind the bush with his dim-witted assistant in tow. Some astronomers think that the two gas-giants do not sport solid surfaces secreted beneath their immense and heavy gaseous atmospheres, although others suggest that the jumbo-size duo do, indeed, harbor relatively small cores of rocky-icy stuff. The two other large inhabitants of the outer limits of our Sun's family are Uranus and Neptune, which are both classified as ice-giants, because they harbor large icy cores secreted deep down beneath their heavy, dense gaseous atmospheres which, though very massive, are not nearly as heavy as the gaseous envelopes possessed by Jupiter and Saturn. The discovery of a moon for Makemake may have solved one perplexing puzzle concerning this distant, icy object. Earlier infrared studies of the dwarf planet showed that while Makemake's surface is almost entirely frozen and bright, some areas seem to be warmer than other areas. Astronomers had suggested that this discrepancy may be the result of our Sun warming certain dark patches on Makemake's surface. However, unless Makemake is in a special orientation, these mysterious dark patches should cause the ice dwarf's brightness to vary substantially as it rotates. But this amount of variability has not been observed.