First ringed dwarf planet Haumea discovered: 7 things to know

What made this observation even more intriguing was that it revealed a thin ring orbiting Haumea.

Some of the most exciting new discoveries in space come from far, far away, thanks to telescopes capable of detecting exoplanets that are so distant we'd likely never be able to actually visit them, but that doesn't mean there isn't still some pretty interesting stuff here in our own Solar System.

The finding of rings also suggests that Haumea might have been hit with something not long ago, at least in terms of space, possibly between 700m and 1bn years ago. The discovery also marks the first time anyone has found rings around an object in the Kuiper belt, a region of icy bodies out beyond the orbit of Neptune.

The current hypothesis is that some time ago Haumea slammed into a massive object - creating its two moons, Hi'iaka and Namaka, as well as a smattering of rocks and debris that would later form the ring.

Haumea is named after the matron goddess of Hawaii island, atop which the Mauna Kea observatory, from which the planet was discovered, is located.

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. 10199 Chariklo, which is the largest of a class of objects called "centaurs" hiding out between Saturn and Uranus, has a ring, as does fellow centaur 2060 Chiron.

Though unexpected, it wasn't a huge surprise, Ortiz says. The planet has two moons. "So, we did not have a clear clue that Haumea could have a ring". The enormous distance between Earth and these objects also poses hindrance in observing them from Earth. Ortiz estimates that about a quarter of bodies in the outer solar system might have rings around them, although he stresses that this is still "pure speculation" for now. Then, in 2013, a team announced that an object called 10199 Chariklo was the first asteroid known to have rings. They found that the star dimmed in a way that would suggest a sparse ring orbiting 1500 miles above the surface. A 3:1 resonance is displayed by the dwarf planet with respect to the rotation, which means that the Planet rotates at a pace which is three times faster on its axis than that of the frozen particles present in the ring around it. "After our work, we can say that Haumea is far less rocky and it can have an interior more similar to that of Pluto".

"There might be a minimum size for ring development, so from that point of view, MU69 is probably too small to have retained a ring", he adds. It allows astronomers to determine the main physical characteristics of an object (size, shape, and density) and has been successfully applied to dwarf planets Pluto, Eris and Makemake.

Vanessa Coleman

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