New dwarf planets

25 September, 2008

Trans-Neptunian objects
A depiction of the state of things now that two new dwarf planets have been named.
Image: NASA
Source: NASA

Makemake and Haumea identified as dwarf planets.

It's now two years since the International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced the biggest change to our Solar System in decades – declaring Pluto to be a dwarf planet and therefore limiting the number of planets orbiting the Sun to just eight. At that time two other dwarf planets were also identified: Ceres, the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt, and Eris, slightly larger than Pluto and also lying beyond Neptune’s orbit.

The family has just got bigger.

Two more objects from the Kuiper Belt – a belt of icy objects orbiting beyond Neptune – have been officially named and recognised as dwarf planets. Makemake (formerly 2005 FY9) is named after the Polynesian creator of humanity and god of fertility. It is the second brightest object in the Kuiper Belt and only slightly smaller than Pluto. It is reddish in colour and possibly covered by a frozen layer of methane.

Haumea (formerly 2003 EL61) is named for the Hawaiian goddess of earth and fertility. It has a very peculiar shape being stretched out almost like a rounded football. It has two moons Hi’iaka and Namaka. The moons and strange shape of Haumea seem to suggest that the dwarf planet was rocked by a collision at sometime in its past.

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