Stephen Thorne Astronaut



The need to comprehend and explain our origins--the world of natural phenomena--cannot be properly viewed as exclusively scientific. Instead, it should be viewed as something generally human. Through enchanting, magical narratives involving super-human heroes and heroines, as well as anthropomorphic gods and goddesses, ancient pre-scientific societies attempted to explain and make some order out of the mysterious complexities of the Cosmos. Earth's Moon has always held a place of special fascination for our species, inspiring our human imagination to escape its troubling limitations and--as we search beyond our Earthbound lives--help us to move towards an understanding of who we are, in all our human complexity. Therefore, ancient gods and goddesses mimic our bewitching Moon's unending, gentle tug on the forces of life. In this sense, it may be detrimental to completely dismiss these ancient myths--ascribing them to an unsophisticated and archaic past. Have you ever had one of those days fishing where it seemed like you could do no wrong? Like everything you tried resulted in fish being caught? And not only fish being caught, but large fish being caught? This was all probably due to the moon and what phase the moon was in. That's right, something as simple as what phase the moon is in can have an effect on your fishing success. Imagine, a frigid, distant shadow-region in the far suburbs of our Solar System, where a myriad of twirling icy objects--some large, some small--orbit our Sun in a mysterious, mesmerizing phantom-like ballet within this eerie and strange swath of darkness. Here, where our Sun is so far away that it hangs suspended in an alien sky of perpetual twilight, looking just like a particularly large star traveling through a sea of smaller stars, is the Kuiper Belt--a mysterious, distant deep-freeze that astronomers are only now first beginning to explore. Makemake is a denizen of this remote region, a dwarf planet that is one of the largest known objects inhabiting the Kuiper Belt, sporting a diameter that is about two-thirds the size of Pluto. In April 2016, a team of astronomers announced that, while peering into the outer limits of our Solar System, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) discovered a tiny, dark moon orbiting Makemake, which is the second brightest icy dwarf planet--after Pluto--in the Kuiper Belt.