20 Jul 2008

Dwarf planet named for Polynesian god

11:10 am on 20 July 2008

A dwarf planet orbiting beyond Neptune has been designated the third plutoid in the solar system and given the name Makemake, the International Astronomical Union says.

The red methane-covered dwarf planet, formerly known as 2005 FY9 or "Easterbunny", is named after a Polynesian creator of humanity and god of fertility.

In June the IAU, which names planets and other heavenly bodies, decided to create a new class of sub-planets called plutoids.

Pluto, demoted from planet status, and Eris are the other two plutoids. A fourth dwarf planet named Ceres has been excluded from the plutoid club because it orbits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Makemake is just slightly smaller and dimmer than Pluto and was discovered in 2005 by Mike Brown from the California Institute of Technology.

He says the name Makemake came to him when he was looking for a mythological god and thought of Easter Island in the Pacific.