Scientists discover a ring around the rugby-ball shaped dwarf planet Haumea

Share

Other astronomers weren't necessarily surprised, but it adds even more complexity to Haumea's already long story. This dwarf planet is a third of the size of Pluto, has a weird, elongated shape, and rotates once every four hours.

Now, with the find at Haumea, the answer seems to be no: "It means it's likely that there's nothing unusual about these rings, or they're at least an occasional aspect of solar system bodies", Showalter says. The team, made up of global astronomers, watched the dwarf planet briefly pass in front of a star, which blocked out that star's light. This week, researchers said that the egg-shaped Haumea - one of the four dwarf planets in our Solar System, way beyond Neptune - is orbited by a bunch of material roughly 43 miles in width.

Aside from those instances, the Haumea ring is the first time we've detected this, so we're in some pretty unfamiliar territory - but the researchers hint we may be about to observe an wonderful trend in the characteristics of these faraway, mysterious minor planets. Together, these results raised questions over whether there was something unique about centaurs that made them able to host rings. We know the dwarf planet itself reflects about half the sunlight that shines on it, and that it doesn't have an atmosphere.

Haumea, named after a Hawaiian goddess, orbits just past Neptune and has two moons, called Hiʻiaka and Namaka. That debris would have coalesced into the ring. Jose Ortiz of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain said that it is regrettable that even with the most enormous telescopes on Earth, or the Hubble Space Telescope, we can not see the details of Haumea, than a dot of light.

Haumea's discovery in 2005 was contentious. But it appeared that someone at Ortiz's institution had been sifting through famous planet hunter (and Batygin's now-partner) Mike Brown's online notes showing the object just before the announcement. Ortiz is the first author of the newest Nature study.

In that same study, astronomers suggested that other two dwarf planets may also be surrounded by rings.

The rings could be key to figuring out Haumea's history. The most surprising item learned was that it has rings.

That rapid spin makes it the fastest-spinning large object known in our solar system.

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.

Share