Dwarf planet has a ring to it

Artist’s impression of the dwarf planet Haumea and its moons Hi’aka and Namaka. Credit NASA

Artist’s impression of the dwarf planet Haumea and its moons Hi’aka and Namaka. Credit NASA

Named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth, it is among a handful of known dwarf planets beyond the orbit of Neptune, which with the other so-called giant planets - Saturn, Uranus and Jupiter - all have rings.

VIDEO Back in January, a Spanish-led group of astroboffins turned telescopes skywards to watch an occultation of dwarf planet Haumea, and got a surprise. 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. This allowed the planetary researchers to build a better theory about the size and shape of dwarf planet. And, as a paper published Wednesday in Nature demonstrates, it left behind a ring of material, too. We now know it has a 70km-wide ring orbiting around its equator, 2,000km away from the planet itself. An entire day on the dwarf planet lasts only four hours. The scientists expect to discover more rings as research continues. "After our work, we can say that Haumea is far less rocky and it can have an interior more similar to that of Pluto". Two separate teams of astronomers - one led by Ortiz at the Sierra Nevada Observatory, the other led by Mike Brown at Caltech in the U.S. - claimed to have discovered it in close proximity to each other, leading to a dispute that delayed its official naming.

That rapid spin makes it the fastest-spinning large object known in our solar system. They got 10 Earth-based observatories ready, and on that night all pointed their telescopes towards the same patch of sky to learn as much as they could.

Like its neighbor Pluto, Haumea takes a very long and elongated path around the sun and at times crosses the path of other celestial bodies.

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Hydrostatic equilibrium is the scientific way of saying that a lump of rock is so big its own gravity has pulled it all in and made it spherical, or at least an ellipsoid. Both those worlds are on the smaller end of the dwarf planet spectrum.

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 incredible trend in the characteristics of these faraway, mysterious minor planets. This ring system suggests that the small bodies around the weird planet could also host rings-and this poses a great challenge for visiting spacecrafts.

The presumption that only larger planets like Saturn can host rings has been busted. And for some reason, a significant part of them have rings.

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