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Dwarf Planet Menu  

Welcome to Haumea!

Situated in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune's orbit, Haumea stands out as a distinctive dwarf planet. Haumea has a unique oval shape caused by its rapid rotation. It is named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth and fertility and has two known moons. It also has a ring. And its discovery caused a bit of a drama when two teams of astronomers both made claims to have discovered it!

AI-generated image of Haumea, giving an idea of its possible appearance based on observations.
Average distance from Sun
6,450,100,000 km
4,007,905,087 miles
43.12 A.U.
2322 x 1,704 x 1,138 km
(1,443 x 1,059 x 707 miles)
Time to spin on axis (a day)
3 hours, 55 mins
Time to orbit the Sun (a year)
283 years, 44 days
-240 °C
-400 °F
Origin of Name
In Hawaiian mythology, Haumea is the goddess of fertility, childbirth and new life.
Number of Moons
Haumea Key Information
  • Classified as a dwarf planet, and is the third dwarf planet in distance from the Sun
  • Also referred to as a Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) as it orbits beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune
  • Has an elongated shape, and isn't spherical like the other planets and dwarf planets. Looks more like an American football or rugby ball. Or if you want to sound smart, it's a Jacobi ellipsoid, or a uniform triaxial ellipsoid.
  • Diameter lengthways is approximately 2,320 kilometres (1,440 miles). Its width is 1,520 kilometres (945 miles).
  • Takes just over 283 years to orbit the Sun
  • Two teams are credited with the discovery of Haumea. A team led by Mike Brown at Caltech, photographed it in December 2004 and announced it in July 2005. A Spanish team led by José Luis Ortiz Moreno photographed it in 2003, but didn't notice it in their pictures until July 2005.
  • Has two known moons, Hiʻiaka and Namaka
  • Was initially nicknamed Santa, and its two moons as Rudolph and Blitzen, before being given less festive names later on. Shame.
  • A ring was discovered around Haumea in 2017. It is the first Trans-Neptunian Object known to have a ring.
  • Has a white surface with dark red regions

Haumea's Orbit

Haumea is one of the Solar System's five recognised dwarf planets, alongside Ceres, Pluto, Makemake, and Eris. All apart from Ceres exist beyond Neptune's orbit so are also classed as Trans-Neptunian Objects. Dwarf planets are bodies that are spherical - or almost spherical - but that, unlike the regular planets, share their orbits with other objects.

Situated in the Kuiper Belt, Haumea orbits the Sun between 5.23 (3.25 billion miles) and 7.7 billion kilometres (4.74 billion miles), taking about 283 years to complete one orbit. Its path is moderately eccentric and tilted relative to the Solar System's plane, and it rotates every 3.9 hours.

The Shape and Size of Haumea

Unlike most Solar System objects, Haumea is not spherical but elongated, resembling a rugby ball. This unusual shape is likely caused by its rapid rotation, as centrifugal forces stretch it along its equator. Because of its quick spin and remote location, accurately calculating Haumea's dimensions is not too easy, so current figures are estimates

Size and dimensions of dwarf planet Haumea
Size and dimensions of dwarf planet Haumea. Dimensions are based on current estimations.

Haumea is one of the largest known objects in the Kuiper Belt, with its longest axis measuring about 2,322 kilometers. This makes it roughly the same size as Pluto in one dimension, but its unique shape means its volume and mass are significantly less. Haumea's mass is about one-third that of Pluto.

Size comparison of Haumea against Earth, Earth's Moon and Pluto
Size comparison of Haumea against Earth, Earth's Moon and Pluto

Who Discovered Haumea?

The announcement of Haumea's existence in July 2005 sparked both excitement and controversy among the scientific community. The drama unfolded with two teams of astronomers, one led by Mike Brown in California, USA, and the other led by José Luis Ortiz Moreno in Spain, each claiming the discovery of this distant world.

In December 2004, Mike Brown's team at Caltech in sunny California spotted an unknown object in images taken earlier that year. They nicknamed it Santa because they found it right after Christmas. They decided to hold off announcing their discovery so that they could make further observations of "Santa" and its surroundings, and also because Mike Brown became a dad around that time! This extra time allowed the team to find two moons orbiting "Santa", which they nicknamed Rudolph and Blitzen, and also two additional objects even further out, later known as Eris and Makemake. They uploaded their findings online, and planned a public reveal for later in 2005.

However, before Mike Brown's team could make their announcement, José Luis Ortiz Moreno's team in sunny Spain identified the same object using photographs taken at the Sierra Nevada Observatory back in March 2003. Instead of making their own fresh observations, they used the data posted online by Mike Brown's team to confirm their discovery. They rushed to notify the Minor Planet Center (MPC) about it to stake their claim.

While Mike Brown went on to provide evidence that his team had first observed the object, and highlighted that the Spanish team had used his data for validation, both groups are often recognised for the discovery. The discovery date and location is usually listed as 7th March 2003 at Sierra Nevada Observatory, the site of the earliest recorded observation. Its official name, Haumea, was suggested by Mike Brown's team at Caltech. The object received this name on 17th September 2008 when it was also designated as a dwarf planet. Its two moons received the names Hiʻiaka and Namaka. Haumea is the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth and fertility, while Hiʻiaka is the goddess of Hawaii's Big Island, and Namaka is the Hawaiian goddess of the sea.

Mike Brown's team also brought forward their announcements of Eris and Makemake, possibly to prevent others from getting the scoop on those too.

Your Thoughts?

Who do you think deserves the credit for discovering Haumea? Should it go to the team that first observed it, or the team that first reported it? Is it fair to use another team's data to confirm a discovery? Or should discoveries be shared immediately to foster collaboration among scientists? What do you think?

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