Solar System Travel

The Solar System formed 4. 6┬ábillion years ago from the gravitational collapse of a giant interstellar molecular cloud. The vast majority of the system’s mass is in the Sun, with the majority of the remaining mass contained in Jupiter. The four smaller inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, are terrestrial planets, being primarily composed of rock and metal. The four outer planets are giant planets, being substantially more massive than the terrestrials. The two largest, Jupiter and Saturn, are gas giants, being composed mainly of hydrogen and helium; the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are ice giants, being composed mostly of substances with relatively high melting points compared with hydrogen and helium, called volatiles, such as water, ammonia and methane. All eight planets have almost circular orbits that lie within a nearly flat disc called the ecliptic.

The discovery of Makemake's little moon increases the parallels between Pluto and Makemake. This is because both of the small icy worlds are already known to be well-coated in a frozen shell of methane. Furthermore, additional observations of the little moon will readily reveal the density of Makemake--an important result that will indicate if the bulk compositions of Pluto and Makemake are similar. "This new discovery opens a new chapter in comparative planetology in the outer Solar System," Dr. Marc Buie commented in the April 26, 2016 Hubble Press Release. Dr. Buie, the team leader, is also of the Southwest Research Institute. Although the provisional designation of 2005 FY9 was given to Makemake when its discovery was made public, before that Dr. Brown's team had used the playful codename "Easter Bunny" for this small world, because of its discovery shortly after Easter. The team of scientists used data gathered by NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, composed of a duo of twin spacecraft that circled Earth's Moon throughout 2012, each measuring the push and pull of the other as an indicator of lunar gravity.