Makemake – planet beyond Pluto – has no atmosphere; Research

Astronomers have gotten the best ever view of the dwarf planet, referred to as Makemake, beyond Pluto and found that the planet lacks atmosphere.

This research has been published online in the journal Nature.

Makemake, pronounced as MAH-keh MAH-keh, was found in 2005 revolving around our sun in our solar system. It is about 2/3 of the diameter of Pluto in size. This is the first study revealing that Makemake has no form of atmosphere that is opposite to the previous views that it has some atmosphere similar to that of Pluto.

Artist's rendition of the dwarf planet Makemake (Credit: Nick Risinger and L. Calçada, ESO)

Astronomers have done this research with the help of European Southern Observatory’s three most powerful telescopes in Chile. They observed the change of light coming from a distant star as the planet moved in front of it in April 2011. The light dimmed and brightened abruptly as the planet moved from it showing that there is no atmosphere on planet.

“The light went off very abruptly from all the sites we observed the event so this means this world cannot have a substantial and global atmosphere like that of its sibling Pluto,” Jose Luis Ortiz, lead author of this new study and an astronomer at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia, in Spain, said in a statement.

“These events are extremely difficult to predict and observe, but they are the only means of obtaining accurate knowledge of important properties of dwarf planets,” Ortiz added.

According to Ortiz, it is just like studying a coin from a distance of 30 miles (48 kilometers) or more.

Not only about the atmosphere but the new research also showed about the size and surface of the planet.

“We think Makemake is a sphere flattened slightly at both poles and mostly covered with very white ices—mainly of methane,” said Ortiz.

“But there are also indications for some organic material at least at some places; this material is usually very red and we think in a small percentage of the surface, the terrain is quite dark,” he added.

“Pluto, Eris and Makemake are among the larger examples of the numerous icy bodies orbiting far away from our Sun,” Ortiz said in a statement. “Our new observations have greatly improved our knowledge of one of the biggest, Makemake — we will be able to use this information as we explore the intriguing objects in this region of space further.”


J. L. Ortiz, B. Sicardy, F. Braga-Ribas, A. Alvarez-Candal, E. Lellouch, R. Duffard, N. Pinilla-Alonso, V. D. Ivanov, S. P. Littlefair, J. I. B. Camargo, M. Assafin, E. Unda-Sanzana, E. Jehin, N. Morales, G. Tancredi,                R. Gil-Hutton, I. de la Cueva, J. P. Colque, D. N. Da Silva Neto, J. Manfroid, A. Thirouin, P. J. Gutiérrez,        J. Lecacheux, M. Gillon, A. Maury, F. Colas, J. Licandro, T. Mueller, C. Jacques, D. Weaver, A. Milone,  R. Salvo, S. Bruzzone, F. Organero, R. Behrend, S. Roland, R. Vieira-Martins, T. Widemann, F. Roques,           P. Santos-Sanz, D. Hestroffer, V. S. Dhillon, T. R. Marsh, C. Harlingten, A. Campo Bagatin, M. L. Alonso,    M. Ortiz, C. Colazo, H. J. F. Lima,               A. S. Oliveira, L. O. Kerber, R. Smiljanic, E. Pimentel, B. Giacchini,             P. Cacella & M. Emilio, (2012). Albedo and atmospheric constraints of dwarf planet Makemake from a stellar occultation. Nature, doi:10.1038/nature11597

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