Published: Fri, October 13, 2017
Science | By Eileen Rhodes

Besides having two moons, dwarf planet Haumea also has a ring

As one of the largest dwarf planets in our solar system, Haumea is found within the Kuiper Belt band of asteroids and shares some characteristics with the largest known dwarf planet in our region of space, Pluto. An entire day on the dwarf planet lasts only four hours.

The presumption that only larger planets like Saturn can host rings has been busted. Other astronomers weren't necessarily surprised, but it adds even more complexity to Haumea's already long story. "After our work, we can say that Haumea is far less rocky and it can have an interior more similar to that of Pluto". According to the study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, there is a collection of icy dwarf planets called trans-Neptunian objects, or TNOs.

Its width is 70 Km and is about 1,000 kilometres away from Haumea's surface.

This new finding may assist scientists in understanding the reason behind ring formation, and the process of the same.

Konstantin Batygin, CalTech planetary astrophysicist, wasn't surprised. As a result, the team was able to pick up certain things about the dwarf planet, including the possibility of having a ring.

Long ago, something happened to Haumea. It has two known moons: "Hiʻiaka and Namaka". That debris would have coalesced into the ring.

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Haumea's discovery in 2005 was contentious.

The new discovery led under the supervision of Jose Luis Ortiz, an astronomer at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain. 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. It wasn't until 2008 that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially classified it as the fifth dwarf planet, gave it the name Haumea - a suggestion that came from the U.S. team - and left the name of its discoverer blank.

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

Of course, rings around larger worlds in the Solar System are common, and while Saturn's is the most famous and extensive, there are also ring systems around the other giant planets: Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune.

Now, with the find at Haumea, the answer seems to be no: "It means it's likely that there's nothing unusual about these rings, or they're at least an occasional aspect of solar system bodies", Showalter says.

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