Abstract

Pluto and Eris are icy dwarf planets with nearly identical sizes, comparable densities and similar surface compositions as revealed by spectroscopic studies1,2. Pluto possesses an atmosphere whereas Eris does not; the difference probably arises from their differing distances from the Sun, and explains their different albedos3. Makemake is another icy dwarf planet with a spectrum similar to Eris and Pluto4, and is currently at a distance to the Sun intermediate between the two. Although Makemake’s size (1,420 ± 60 km) and albedo are roughly known5,6, there has been no constraint on its density and there were expectations that it could have a Pluto-like atmosphere4,7,8. Here we report the results from a stellar occultation by Makemake on 2011 April 23. Our preferred solution that fits the occultation chords corresponds to a body with projected axes of 1,430 ± 9 km (1σ) and 1,502 ± 45 km, implying a V-band geometric albedo pV = 0.77 ± 0.03. This albedo is larger than that of Pluto, but smaller than that of Eris. The disappearances and reappearances of the star were abrupt, showing that Makemake has no global Pluto-like atmosphere at an upper limit of 4–12 nanobar (1σ) for the surface pressure, although a localized atmosphere is possible. A density of 1.7 ± 0.3 g cm−3 is inferred from the data.

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Acknowledgements

These results were based partially on observations made with European Southern Observatory Telescopes at the La Silla and Paranal Observatories under programme 287C-5013. J.L.O. acknowledges funding from Spanish and Andalusian grants and the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER). B.S. acknowledges support from French National Research Agency (ANR) grant ‘Beyond Neptune’, and from the Institut Universitaire de France. E.U.-S. acknowledges the support from the Chilean National Commission for Scientific and Technical Research (Gemini-CONICYT funds), and from the North Catholic University of Chile Vicerectorate of Research and Technology Development (UCN-VRIDT). TRAPPIST is a project funded by the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (FRS-FNRS) with the participation of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). J.I.B.C. acknowledges grants by the Brazilian National Council for the Development of Science and Technology (CNPq), and the Foundation for Research Support of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ). P.S.-S. acknowledges financial support by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). R.G.-H. acknowledges partial financial support by the Argentinian National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET). F.B.-R. acknowledges the support of the French-Brazilian Doctoral College Coordination of Improvement of Graduated Personnel programme (CDFB/CAPES). A.A.-C. acknowledges support from the Marie Curie Actions of the European Commission (FP7-COFUND). S.P.L., V.S.D. and T.R.M. acknowledge funding for ULTRACAM from the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council. R.D. acknowledges support from Spanish Ministry of Economics and Competitiveness through a Ramón y Cajal contract.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC, Apartado 3004, 18080 Granada, Spain

    • J. L. Ortiz
    • , A. Alvarez-Candal
    • , R. Duffard
    • , N. Pinilla-Alonso
    • , N. Morales
    • , A. Thirouin
    • , P. J. Gutiérrez
    •  & P. Santos-Sanz
  2. LESIA–Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, UPMC Univ. Paris 6, Univ. Paris-Diderot, 5 Place J. Janssen, 92195 Meudon Cedex, France

    • B. Sicardy
    • , F. Braga-Ribas
    • , E. Lellouch
    • , J. Lecacheux
    • , T. Widemann
    • , F. Roques
    •  & P. Santos-Sanz
  3. Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 4 Place Jussieu, 75252 Paris Cedex 5, France

    • B. Sicardy
  4. Institut Universitaire de France, 103 Boulevard Saint Michel, 75005 Paris, France

    • B. Sicardy
  5. Observatório Nacional/MCTI, Rua General José Cristino 77, CEP20921-400 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    • F. Braga-Ribas
    • , J. I. B. Camargo
    • , D. N. Da Silva Neto
    •  & R. Vieira-Martins
  6. European Southern Observatory, Alonso de Córdova 3107, Vitacura, Casilla 19001, Santiago 19, Chile

    • A. Alvarez-Candal
    •  & V. D. Ivanov
  7. SETI Institute, 189 Bernardo Ave., Mountain View, California 94043, USA

    • N. Pinilla-Alonso
  8. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S3 7RH, UK

    • S. P. Littlefair
    •  & V. S. Dhillon
  9. Observatório do Valongo, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Ladeira Pedro Antonio 43, CEP 20.080-090 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    • M. Assafin
    •  & R. Vieira-Martins
  10. Unidad de Astronomía, Facultad de Ciencias Básicas, Universidad de Antofagasta, Avenida Angamos 601, Antofagasta, Chile

    • E. Unda-Sanzana
    •  & J. P. Colque
  11. Institut d’Astrophysique de I’Université de Liège, Allée du 6 Août 17, B-4000 Liège, Belgium

    • E. Jehin
    • , J. Manfroid
    •  & M. Gillon
  12. Observatorio Astronómico Los Molinos DICYT-MEC Cno. de los Molinos 5769, 12400 Montevideo, Uruguay

    • G. Tancredi
    • , R. Salvo
    • , S. Bruzzone
    •  & S. Roland
  13. Complejo Astronómico El Leoncito (CASLEO) and San Juan National University, Avenida España 1512 sur, J5402DSP, San Juan, Argentina

    • R. Gil-Hutton
  14. Astroimagen, Abad y Sierra 58Bis, 07800 Ibiza, Spain

    • I. de la Cueva
  15. San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations, Casilla 21, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

    • A. Maury
  16. IMCCE, Observatoire de Paris, UPMC, Univ. Lille 1, CNRS, 77 Av. Denfert-Rochereau, 75014 Paris, France

    • F. Colas
    • , R. Vieira-Martins
    •  & D. Hestroffer
  17. Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Vía Láctea s/n 38250 La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain

    • J. Licandro
  18. Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik, Giessenbachstraße, 85748 Garching, Germany

    • T. Mueller
  19. Observatório CEAMIG-REA, Rua Radialista Joao Sposito 183, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, CEP31545-120, Brazil

    • C. Jacques
    • , E. Pimentel
    •  & B. Giacchini
  20. Observatório Astronômico Christus, Universidade de Fortaleza. Rua João Carvalho, 630, Aldeota, Fortaleza, Brazil

    • D. Weaver
  21. Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais/MCTI, Divisão de Astrofisica, Av. dos Astronautas 1758, São José dos Campos-SP, 12227-010, Brazil

    • A. Milone
  22. Observatorio astronómico de La Hita, 45840 La Puebla de Almoradiel, Toledo, Spain

    • F. Organero
  23. Observatoire de Genève, CH-1290 Sauverny, Switzerland

    • R. Behrend
  24. Department of Physics, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK

    • T. R. Marsh
  25. Caisey Harlingten Observatory, The Grange, Scarrow Beck Road, Erpingham, Norfolk NR11 7QX, UK

    • C. Harlingten
  26. Departamento de Física, Ingeniería de Sistemas y teoría de la Señal and Instituto de Física Aplicada a las Ciencias y la Tecnología, Universidad de Alicante P.O. Box 99, 03080 Alicante, Spain

    • A. Campo Bagatin
  27. Instituut voor Sterrenkunde, K. U. Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200B, B-3001 Leuven, Belgium

    • M. L. Alonso
  28. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile Vicuna Mackenna 4860 7820436 Macul, Santiago, Chile

    • M. Ortiz
  29. Observatorio Astronomico el Gato Gris, S. Luis 145, Tanti, Córdoba, Argentina

    • C. Colazo
  30. IP&D, Universidade do Vale do Paraíba, Av. Shishima Hifumi, 2911, CEP 12244-000, São José dos Campos, Brazil

    • H. J. F. Lima
    •  & A. S. Oliveira
  31. Laboratório de Astrofísica Teórica e Observacional, Departamento de Ciências Exatas e Tecnológicas, Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, 45662-00 Rodovia Ilhéus-Itabuna, km 16, Brazil

    • L. O. Kerber
  32. European Southern Observatory, Karl-Schwarzschild-Str. 2, 85748 Garching bei München, Germany

    • R. Smiljanic
  33. Rede de Astronomia Observacional, Brasilia, SMPW Q25 CJ1-10B, 71745-501, Brazil

    • P. Cacella
  34. Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa, O.A. — DEGEO, Avenida Carlos Cavalcanti 4748, Ponta Grossa 84030-900, Brazil

    • M. Emilio

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Contributions

J.L.O. helped to plan the campaign, analysed data for the prediction, made the prediction, participated in the observations, obtained and analysed data, interpreted data and wrote part of the paper. B.S. helped to plan the campaign, participated in the observations, analysed data, interpreted data, wrote and ran the diffraction and ray-tracing codes and wrote part of the paper. F.B.-R. and A.A.-C. helped to plan the campaign, participated in the observations and analysed and interpreted data. E.L. analysed the implications of the results for Makemake’s thermal model and putative atmospheric structure and wrote part of the paper. R.D. and V.D.I. helped to plan the observations and analysed data. J.I.B.C., S.P.L., E.U.-S., J.P.C., E.J. and J.M. participated in the observations and analysed data. M.A., F.B.-R., J.I.B.C., R.V.-M., D.N.d.S.N. and R.B. discovered the star candidate and analysed data. P.J.G. and T.M. made thermal models and participated in the interpretation. All other authors participated in the planning of the campaign and/or the observations and/or the interpretations. All authors were given the opportunity to review the results and comment on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. L. Ortiz.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data 1-8, Supplementary Figures 1-7, Supplementary Table 1 and additional references.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11597

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