Saturday, November 24, 2012

New Dwarf Planet Revealed by Occultation

Rare Apparition of Dwarf Planet Makemake Reveals a Largely Airless World

Makemake briefly eclipsed a run-of-the-mill star last year, allowing astronomers to measure the dwarf planet's physical properties

Makemake artist's conception CLEAR SKIES: An artist's conception of the dwarf planet Makemake depicts the world without a significant atmosphere. Image: ESO/L. Calcada/Nick Risinger (
A new look at the dwarf planet Makemake, one of the more recent additions to the known solar system, has pinned down some of the object's most basic—and important—attributes.

Astronomers took to observatories across South America in April 2011 to catch a rare glimpse of the dwarf planet—or at least its shadow—as Makemake (pronounced "mah-kee mah-kee") crossed in front of a faint background star and dimmed the star for about a minute. The duration of the occultation, as such celestial conjunctions are called, allowed the astronomers to more precisely estimate Makemake's physical size. The researchers reported their findings in the November 22 issue of Nature. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

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Source: Scientific American Magazine.


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