The dwarf planet Haumea, which lies beyond the orbit of Neptune, in the belt of Kuiper, again astonishes us. Thanks to observations involving a dozen international telescopes, a team of scientists led by Jose Luis Ortiz, from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (CSIC), has discovered that Haumea has a ring, like Saturn.
Haumea, a name given by the Hawaiian goddess of birth, is a rather unusual planet. It is classified as dwarf planet, has a curious form of rugby ball or melon and has two moons. In addition, this dwarf planet whose mass is a third of the one of Pluto, also owns own ring, probably formed by fragments of rock and ice.
Until now only the existence of rings in giant planets such as Saturn and Jupiter has been known, but now we know that it is possible to find them in dwarf planets. It is the first finding of a ring around a transneptunian object.
“Until just a few years ago we only knew the existence of rings around giant planets (like Saturn) and, a short time ago, our team also discovered that two small bodies (Cariclo and Chiron) located between Jupiter and Neptune, belonging to the family of objects called centaurs, have dense rings, which was a great surprise, “explains Pablo Santos-Sanz, co-author of the paper published in the journal Nature.
“Now, moreover, we discover that bodies even more distant than the centaurs, larger and with very different general characteristics may also have rings,” says the researcher. In fact, it is the first finding of a ring around a transneptunian object, and shows that the presence of these gigantic ‘rings’ could be much more common than was believed , both in our solar system and in other planetary systems ” , continues Santos-Sanz .
How did you find the ring?
Taking advantage of a difficult moment to grasp, in which Haumea eclipsed a distant star (URAT1 533-182543), the researchers of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia were able to determine the main characteristics of this body, discovering the surprising presence of a ring around it.
The ring in question is 2,287 kilometers from the center of the main body; is darker than the surface of the dwarf planet itself and is about 70 kilometers thick.
The origin of this ring is unknown, but experts believe it could extract minerals from its surface and that a part of them could be orbit around this world forming the newly discovered ring.
Haumea is about 8,000 million kilometers from the Sun (50 times as far away as the Earth from the Sun); rotates rapidly on its own axis, because its rotation speed is 3.9 hours, much faster than any other body of more than 100 kilometers of the entire solar system. It needs 285 years to surround the Sun; hence its surface is covered with a very bright ice layer. And, unlike other dwarf planets like Pluto, it has no atmosphere.