NASA Stennis Center



Discovered on March 31, 2005, by a team of planetary scientists led by Dr. Michael E. Brown of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Makemake was initially dubbed 2005 FY 9, when Dr. Brown and his colleagues, announced its discovery on July 29, 2005. The team of astronomers had used Caltech's Palomar Observatory near San Diego to make their discovery of this icy dwarf planet, that was later given the minor-planet number of 136472. Makemake was classified as a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in July 2008. Dr. Brown's team of astronomers had originally planned to delay announcing their discoveries of the bright, icy denizens of the Kuiper Belt--Makemake and its sister world Eris--until additional calculations and observations were complete. However, they went on to announce them both on July 29, 2005, when the discovery of Haumea--another large icy denizen of the outer limits of our Solar System that they had been watching--was announced amidst considerable controversy on July 27, 2005, by a different team of planetary scientists from Spain. This gigantic "King of Planets" is considered by some astronomers to be a "failed star". It is about as large as a gas giant planet can be, and still be a planet. It is composed of approximately 90% hydrogen and 10% helium, with small amounts of water, methane, ammonia, and rocky grains mixed into the brew. If any more material were added on to this immense planet, gravity would hug it tightly--while its entire radius would barely increase. A baby star can grow to be much larger than Jupiter. However, a true star harbors its own sparkling internal source of heat--and Jupiter would have to grow at least 80 times more massive for its furnace to catch fire. In addition, the newly collected data derived from the GRAIL mission helps astronomers redefine the late heavy bombardment--a proposed episode that occurred about 4 billion years ago, during which a heavy shower of projectiles pelted the bodies of the inner Solar System, including Earth and its beloved Moon, creating heavy lunar cratering in the process. The concept of the late heavy bombardment is primarily based on the ages of massive near-side craters that are either within, or adjacent to, dark, lava-flooded basins (lunar maria), that are named Oceanus Procellarum and Mare Imbrium. However, the composition of the material existing on and below the surface of the lunar near-side indicates that the temperatures beneath this area are not representative of Earth's Moon as a whole at the time of the late heavy bombardment. The difference in the temperature profiles may have caused scientists to overestimate the amount of crater-excavating projectiles that characterized the late heavy bombardment. New studies by GRAIL scientists indicate that the size distribution of impact craters on the lunar far-side is a more accurate reflection of the crater-forming history of the inner Solar System than those pock-marking the near-side.