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Besides having two moons, dwarf planet Haumea also has a ring

12 October, 2017, 21:19 | Author: Alberta Rodriguez
  • Artist’s impression of the dwarf planet Haumea and its moons Hi’aka and Namaka. Credit NASA

When Haumea passed in front of a star called URAT1 533-182543 on January 21 of this year, scientists were able to view the dwarf planet with 12 telescopes from ten different labs.

The discoverer of six moons and three planetary rings-including the gossamer rings of Jupiter-Mark Showalter is now heading up the hazard planning team for New Horizon's next flyby target, a tiny object in the Kuiper belt known as MU69.

Unlike planets we all know from science classes in school, Hauma isn't a round globe, it's shaped more like a river rock. Both those worlds are on the smaller end of the dwarf planet spectrum. The total number of officially recognised dwarf planets is now five, but some astronomers argue there could be hundreds of objects in the solar system that fit the definition.

Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea are particularly hard to study due to their small size, low brightness, and enormous distance. The collision also left behind a few small moons and a trail of debris. New evidence is consistent with the presence of a ring. "So, we did not have a clear clue that Haumea could have a ring".

This recent discovery implies that there might be more small bodies in the outer Solar System surrounded by rings, and humans simply haven't been able to determine every single one of them yet. Other astronomers weren't necessarily surprised, but it adds even more complexity to Haumea's already long story.

In 2015, another team announced that similar observations of the centaur 2060 Chiron, made in 2011, hint at rings around that asteroid.

This new finding may assist scientists in understanding the reason behind ring formation, and the process of the same.

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.

As far as the context, there are other objects besides Haumea or the gas giants with rings, too. "For the New Horizons flyby, this is probably not an issue, although it should indeed be considered".

Today, scientists are reporting the discovery of a vast ring encircling Haumea, a distant dwarf planet that takes some 284 Earth years to orbit the Sun, and it's the first time we've seen a ring in this category of minor planet.

The specifics to how Haumea dimmed the light of that distant star would be perfectly explained by a semi-transparent ring with a width of 70km and a radius of 2287km.

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