Science

Scientists squint past Uranus and see another tiny ring

Other than Pluto, Haumea is one of the largest objects that orbits the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, Space.com reported. Researchers at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia have found another ring-around-a-planet, but this time it belongs to the oddball dwarf planet Haumea.

A ring has been discovered around one of the dwarf planets that orbits the outer reaches of the solar system.

"The discovery of a ring around Haumea - a much more distant body, in a completely different dynamical class, much larger than Chariklo and Chiron, with satellites and with a very elongated triaxial shape - has numerous implications", the authors write in their paper, "such as rings being possibly common also in the trans-Neptunian region from which Centaurs are delivered, and opens the door to new avenues of research".

About eight billion kilometres (five billion miles) from the Sun, Haumea spins rapidly on its own axis, and has a flattened, cigar-like shape.

Haumea, named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth, is unusual because of its elongated shape, comparable to a rugby ball, and its rapid rotation, spinning around once every 3.9 hours.

It takes 285 years to circle the Sun.

Instead, astronomers use a method called occultation, where they wait for Haumea to pass in front of a distant star, and they observe how much the light from the star is reduced.

This discovery makes Haumea the first known object past the orbit of Neptune to have rings, and the smallest ringed body in the solar system.

The findings were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

They trained 12 telescopes at 10 different laboratories on the spot, and were able to measure numerous physical characteristics of the little-known planet discovered in 2004.



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