Astronomers have made an unexpected discovery about Haumea, a mysterious dwarf planet on the edge of our solar system. It has two known moons: "Hiʻiaka and Namaka".
It wasn't just rings that the team were looking out for however, as it also gave astronomers an opportunity to analyse its shape, and it could be about to jeopardise its status as a dwarf planet. But Haumea is a bit different. Its diameter is approximately a third of the size of Earth's moon. Aside from that, scientists didn't know a whole lot about it - until now.
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. As a result, the team was able to pick up certain things about the dwarf planet, including the possibility of having a ring. Ortiz is the first author of the newest Nature study.
Haumea was first discovered in 2004. Two separate teams of astronomers - one led by Ortiz at the Sierra Nevada Observatory, the other led by Mike Brown at Caltech in the USA - claimed to have discovered it in close proximity to each other, leading to a dispute that delayed its official naming. Ultimately, the International Astronomical Union chose to give the dwarf planet the name coined by Mike Brown, Haumea, instead of the name given by Ortiz. Other astronomers weren't necessarily surprised, but it adds even more complexity to Haumea's already long story.
An global 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.
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. But it's too soon to say for sure whether Haumea really doesn't match up to this criteria.
The ring is not Haumea's only distinctive feature.
Before this discovery, only four planets in our solar system were considered as ring planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
According to the data obtained from the stellar occultation, the ring lies on the equatorial plane of the dwarf planet, just like its biggest satellite, Hi´iaka, and it displays a 3:1 resonance with respect to the rotation of Haumea, which means that the frozen particles which compose the ring rotate three times slower around the planet than it rotates around its own axis.
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