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Dwarf planet Haumea has its own ring system

Dwarf planet Haumea has its own ring system

Ortiz adds that the use of occultation to find of a ring around Haumea may help others detect rings around similar far-flung objects, and that perhaps Haumea's elongated shape and fast rate of spin are important clues.

Haumea's ring has a radius of almost 1,500 miles, the team discovered, and it moves very slowly in contrast with its host planet. Oritz says there is more than one possible answer to that question.

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.

Astronomers have discovered that Haumea, an egg-shaped dwarf planet at the edge of the Solar System, is surrounded by a ring of particles.

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 fantastic trend in the characteristics of these faraway, mysterious minor planets.

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Konstantin Batygin, CalTech planetary astrophysicist, wasn't surprised. In fact, it might be taken out of the "dwarf planets list" that the astronomers composed. He explained that Haumea is spinning super quickly, probably as the result of some giant impact that happened billions of years ago. It has two known moons: "Hiʻiaka and Namaka". That debris would have coalesced into the ring.

Haumea was first discovered in 2004. But it appeared that someone at Ortiz's institution had been sifting through famous planet hunter (and Batygin's now-partner) Mike Brown's online notes showing the object just before the announcement.

"Prior to our work, researchers thought that Haumea was made mostly of rock and that it had a relatively thin crust of water ice", Ortiz told BuzzFeed News.

The first sign that the dwarf planet might have had rings was when researchers noticed the light being emitted from Haumea dipped just before and after it passed in front of the star designated URAT1 533-182543. And it's what makes a dwarf planet a planet (according to the definition the IAU came up with), and not just a "small solar system body". The most surprising item learned was that it has rings. Scientists recently observed rings around the dwarf planets or "centaurs" Chariklo and Chiron between Saturn and Uranus.

As for whether the finding at Haumea means MU69 could have New Horizons-smashing rings of its own, Ortiz says he doubts it.


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