Monday, 16 October, 2017

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

725 haumea 2 Artist's impression. Credit IAA-CSIC UHU
Theresa Hayes | 12 October, 2017, 20:11

The findings of that intense study were announced this week and scientists found something very cool about the dwarf planet, which lives in our solar system in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune. The researchers divulged that the egg shaped miniature planet Haumea, one of the four notable minuscule planets that wreath the Sun from beyond the orbit of Neptune, is encompassed by a ring of substance round about 43 miles in width. However, it also adds to the list of hidden threats for those who plan on space exploration missions.

The discoverer of six moons and three planetary rings-including the gossamer rings of Jupiter-Mark Showalter is now heading up the hazard planning team for New Horizon's next flyby target, a tiny object in the Kuiper belt known as MU69. "We'll be doing a great deal of studying and preparation".

Haumea was first discovered in 2004.

The occultation that led to this revelation was a network of 12 telescopes spread across 10 locations in central Europe that watched Haumea pass between Earth and the star "URAT1 533-1825".

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

Though unexpected, it wasn't a huge surprise, Ortiz says. It has two known moons: "Hiʻiaka and Namaka".

"But Pluto and [its biggest moon] Charon are supposed to have been formed through a collision, and the New Horizons spacecraft did not show the presence of even a tiny ring" around Pluto, he says.

The occultation also provided the team with our best analysis yet of Haumea's size and shape, which the researchers describe as "very exotic". The reason for the odd shape of the dwarf planet according to scientists is that it has an incredibly fast rotation.

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.

Why is there a ring there in the first place, though? 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.

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.

Amanda Sickafoose, an astronomer at MIT and the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town said that the New Work printed in journal Nature recommends that ring systems in the outer solar system are quite common.

Named after the Hawaiian deity of childbirth, it is among a handful of known dwarf planets beyond the orbit of Neptune, which with the other so-called giant planets - Saturn, Uranus and Jupiter - all have rings.