Astronomers have made an unexpected discovery about Haumea, a mysterious dwarf planet on the edge of our solar system.
This suggested something was obscuring it, most likely a series of rings, that was only confirmed after many months of follow-up research by a team led by José Luis Ortiz of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía. The new information could cost Haumea its dwarf planet status. We know the dwarf planet itself reflects about half the sunlight that shines on it, and that it doesn't have an atmosphere. "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 United States - claimed to have discovered it in close proximity to each other, leading to a dispute that delayed its official naming.
The finding of rings also suggests that Haumea might have been hit with something not long ago, at least in terms of space, possibly between 700m and 1bn years ago.
That rapid spin makes it the fastest-spinning large object known in our solar system.
"Dwarf planets are unique by themselves but Haumea is even more special among them", said Ortiz "It also has two moons, a large and a small one, and the larger one turns out to be in the same plane as the ring we found". 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. According to the study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, there is a collection of icy dwarf planets called trans-Neptunian objects, or TNOs.
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On Jan. 21, 2017, Haumea passed in front of a distant star - a process called occultation by scientists.
The rings could be key to figuring out Haumea's history.
Two minor planets closer than Neptune have rings: the 250-km-wide Chariklo and Chiron, both orbiting "between the asteroid belt and Kuiper belt", the Planetary Society says.
The peculiar dwarf planet Haumea has just gotten more peculiar with the discovery of some faint rings around it. This ring system suggests that the small bodies around the freaky planet could also host rings-and this poses a great challenge for visiting spacecrafts.