What’s Next for NASA

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. Dr. Soderblom further explained to the press that the gravity signatures of the larger craters especially may shed new light into the number of impacts Earth's Moon, and other bodies in our Solar System, suffered during the asteroid-rampage that characterized the Late Heavy Bombardment. Cassini's successful mission of exploration to the Saturn system is over, but planetary scientists are left with a cornucopia filled with important new information that Cassini/Huygens sent back to Earth before its mission ended. A collaborative NASA/European Space Agency/Italian Space Agency mission, the robotic spacecraft was made up of two components. The first was the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Huygens Probe, that had been named in honor of the Dutch mathematician and astronomer Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), who discovered Titan. The Huygens Probe also closely observed Saturn's lovely system of gossamer rings. The second component, the NASA-designed Cassini Orbiter, was named after the Italian-French astronomer Giovanni Dominico Cassini (1625-1712), who discovered four of Saturn's other intriguing, numerous, and icy moons.