Dwarf planet has a ring to it

Ross Houston
October 12, 2017

This suggested something was obscuring it, most likely a series of rings, that was only confirmed after many months of follow-up research by a team led by José Luis Ortiz of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía.

On Jan. 21, the astronomy team observed Haumea via 12 telescopes scattered across Europe. Two separate teams of astronomers - one led by Ortiz at the Sierra Nevada Observatory, the other led by Mike Brown at Caltech in the United States - claimed to have discovered it in close proximity to each other, leading to a dispute that delayed its official naming.

Unlike planets we all know from science classes in school, Hauma isn't a round globe, it's shaped more like a river rock.

Astronomers believe there's another dwarf planet surrounded by objects orbiting in the space. Centaurs, which have unstable orbits, are considered large comets, not planets, which means this is the first observation of a ring around a dwarf planet.

By taking detailed measurements of the light fluctuations at each location as Haumea passed in front of-or occulted-the star, Ortiz and his team were able to calculate Haumea's diameter, shape, brightness, and density.

Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea are particularly hard to study due to their small size, low brightness, and enormous distance.

Though unexpected, it wasn't a huge surprise, Ortiz says.

"But Pluto and [its biggest moon] Charon are supposed to have been formed through a collision, and the New Horizons spacecraft did not show the presence of even a tiny ring" around Pluto, he says.

The paper also suggests that Haumea might not be as small as we think.

Amanda Sickafoose, an astronomer at MIT and the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town said that the New Work printed in journal Nature recommends that ring systems in the outer solar system are quite common.

Ortiz adds that the use of occultation to find of a ring around Haumea may help others detect rings around similar far-flung objects, and that perhaps Haumea's elongated shape and fast rate of spin are important clues.

Whilst rings are well known around Saturn as well as Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus, this novel discovery depicts the third time, especially in the last few years that the scientists have explored and found a ring around a solar system item that is not a planet.

As far as the context, there are other objects besides Haumea or the gas giants with rings, too. Together, these results raised questions over whether there was something unique about centaurs that made them able to host rings.

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