Scientists Find Rings Around Distant Dwarf Planet

James Marshall
October 12, 2017

It's not just Saturn and gas giants such as Uranus which have rings in our solar system - as a tiny dwarf planet has just been spotted with its very own.

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 planet, dubbed Haumea, orbits the Sun far beyond Neptune-the eighth and furthest recognised "full" planet in our star system since Pluto was downgraded to dwarf status in 2006.

According to the team, Haumea's ring has a width of 70 kilometres (43.5 miles) and a radius of about 2,287 kilometres (1,421 miles), and the dwarf planet rotates three times on its axis in the time that a ring particle completes one revolution.

Haumea spins incredibly fast: this is the reason for its unusual shape - which has been likened to an elongated egg or flattened rugby ball.

Astronomers spotted the ring by measuring Haumea's size, shape and density as it passed in front of a distant star.

This artist's concept shows what Haumea would look like with its newly discovered ring.

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. The researchers saw a dimming caused by the main body of the dwarf planet, but also noticed briefer dimmings before and after, which indicates the presence of a dense ring.

Lead researcher José Luis Ortiz suggests the ring could have formed from a collision or from "the dispersal of surface material due to the planet's high rotational speed".

The findings were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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