Why Are They Called Terrestrial Planets



The existence of ample amounts of hydrogen in the subsurface ocean of Enceladus indicates that microbes--if any exist there--could use it to obtain energy by mixing with carbon dioxide dissolved in water. This particular chemical reaction, termed methanogenesis, because it manufactures methane as a byproduct, may have been of critical importance in the emergence of life on our planet. 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. 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.