Published: Thu, October 12, 2017
Sport | By Ellis Neal

Pluto's neighbour, the exotic Haumea has a ring around it

Pluto's neighbour, the exotic Haumea has a ring around it

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. A tiny ring for a tiny planet.

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

Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea are particularly hard to study due to their small size, low brightness, and enormous distance.

Haumea, named after a Hawaiian goddess, orbits just past Neptune and has two moons, called Hiʻiaka and Namaka. We know the dwarf planet itself reflects about half the sunlight that shines on it, and that it doesn't have an atmosphere.

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.

But Haumea's recent story goes even deeper than that; its discovery a decade ago was rooted in controversy. Haumea is one of the five recognized dwarf planets in the Solar System, and now also the only one to have a ring. 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.

The nomenclature of dwarf came into existence when thousands of Neptunian objects located in the outer solar system were found to be approximately the size of the Pluto which led the International Astronomical Union to create the category of dwarf planets. The most surprising item learned was that it has rings. The new information could cost Haumea its dwarf planet status.

The paper also suggests that Haumea might not be as small as we think.

That rapid spin makes it the fastest-spinning large object known in our solar system.

Why Does Haumea Have A Ring?

As much as planetary scientists are fascinated by this discovery, they claim that they had already kind of assumed the ring's presence on the exotic planet.

Haumea's ring is less reflective than the dwarf planet's bright water ice surface, suggesting it is made up of a mixture of rock and ice. It seems that scientists keep discovering other objects - and not planets - that are being rounded by rings.

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