February 21, 2018

Whoa, Scientists Have Detected A Ring Around This Wacky Dwarf Planet

12 October 2017, 09:17 | Sandy Nunez

Artist's impression. Credit IAA-CSIC UHU

725 haumea 1

The most notable thing about Haumea's shape is that it looks like it has more in common with an egg than something in space, being twice as long in one direction than the other, possibly caused by a very fast rotation.

What should we know about Haumea?

They say the dwarf planet has an unusual elongated ellipsoid shape, with axes of approximately 2,322 kilometres (1,442 miles) by 1,704 kilometres (1,059 miles) by 1,138 kilometres (707 miles), and no global atmosphere that can be detected.

Beyond the orbit of Neptune there are hundreds or even thousands of mysterious dwarf planets, most of which we know nearly nothing about - but there's a lot to learn when we catch a rare glimpse.

The peculiar dwarf planet Haumea has just gotten more peculiar with the discovery of some faint rings around it.

An worldwide team of astronomers found Haumea's ring by watching it from observatories across Europe as it crossed in front of the distant star, URAT1 533- 182543, on 21 January 2017. And for some reason, a significant part of them have rings.

Konstantin Batygin, CalTech planetary astrophysicist, wasn't surprised. He explained that Haumea is spinning super quickly, probably as the result of some giant impact that happened billions of years ago.

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Haumea, named after a Hawaiian goddess, orbits just past Neptune and has two moons, called Hiʻiaka and Namaka.

Haumea's discovery in 2005 was contentious. 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.

The egg-shaped planet is officially considered as a dwarf planet among five dwarf planets, but it is the only planet with its very own ring.

"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. 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. 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".

Till now there had been only four other planets in outer solar system which had rings - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

The rings could be key to figuring out Haumea's history.

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