Monday 18 April 2022

Dwarf Planet 136108 Haumea reaches oposition.

The Dwarf Planet 136108 Haumea will reach opposition (i.e. be directly opposite the Sun seen from Earth) on Tuesday 19 April 2022 at 8.18 pm GMT. This means that it will both be at its closest to the Earth this year, about 49.28 AU (19.28 times the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, or about 7 327 183 000 km), and completely illuminated by the Sun. While it is not visible to the naked eye observer, the planets have phases just like those of the Moon; being further from the Sun than the Earth, 136108 Haumea is 'full' when directly opposite the Sun. The Dwarf Planet will be in the constellation of Bootes and at its highest point in the sky at about 1.40 am local time from anywhere on Earth (this is because the rising and setting of objects in the sky is caused by the Earth's rotation, not the movement of the object). (Even at it's very brightest 136108 Haumea will only have a Magnitude of 17.3, making it almost impossible to see with any but the largest of Earth-based telescopes, and where resolvable it will only be possible to see it as a point of light indistinguishable from a faint star.

The orbit and position of 136108 Haumea (2003 EL61) at 8.00 pm on Tuesday 19 April 2022. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

136108 Haumea orbits the Sun on an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 28.2° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 34.4 AU from the Sun (34.4 times the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 51.5 AU from the Sun (51.5 times the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun). With an average distance of 43.0 AU, 136108 Haumea completes one orbit around the Sun every 282 years. This means that the planet is almost stationary compared to the faster moving Earth, so that it reaches Opposition only one day later each year than the year before, and reaches Solar Conjunction (when it is directly on the opposite side of the Sun to the Earth), roughly six months later.

The Dwarf Planet Haumea is believed to rotate in just under 4 hours. This rapid rotation causes the Dwarf Planet to be elongated in appearance. Stephanie Hoover/Wikimedia Commons.

136108 Haumea was discovered on 28 December 2004 by a team led by Mike Brown of the Palomar Observatory in California, in images taken by them on 28 May 2004; on 27 July 2005 a team led by José Luis Ortiz Moreno and his team at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía reported that they had also discovered the Dwarf Planet, in images taken between 7 and 10 March 2003. With a diameter of 2100 km it is considered to be the third largest dwarf planet in the Solar System (after 134340 Pluto and 136199 Eris) as well as the eighteenth largest body in the Solar System, excluding the Sun (several moons, including our own, are larger).

Haumea has been calculated to be rotating once every 3.9 hours, far more rapidly than any other large body in the Solar System. Curiously for such a fast rotating body, it has not adopted a oblate spheroid (flattened sphere) shape, but is instead a triaxial ellipsoid (elongate flattened sphere, or flattened egg-shape). This implies that, although its surface is comprised of ice, it has a core of fairly dense rocky material. The Dwarf Planet also appears to be surrounded by a ring of icy material, and at least two moons, which have been named Hiʻiaka and Namaka.

Dwarf Planet Haumea and its satellites, imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope's WFC2 camera from 12 May 2008 and 19 May 2008. The brighter dot orbiting Haumea is the larger outer moon Hi'iaka while the fainter dot is the smaller inner moon Namaka. This animation of the moons' orbits spans 7 days and the orbital plane of Namaka is oriented vertically. Hubble Space Telescope/Michael Brown/Wikimedia Commons.

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