Dwarf planet Haumea has its own ring system

Back in 2008 the rugby ball-like planet was recognized by the International Astronomical Union and became one of five dwarf planets, which include Pluto, Ceres, Eris and Makemake, the Guardian reported. New evidence is consistent with the presence of a ring.

Because the team observed both the ring and planet in motion, they were able to work out how fast they rotate in relation to one another. "We didn't expect to find a ring around Haumea, but we were not too surprised either". Other astronomers weren't necessarily surprised, but it adds even more complexity to Haumea's already long story. Aside from that, scientists didn't know a whole lot about it - until now. This dwarf planet lies in the Kuiper belt, and a recent observation revealed the unusual formation which accompanies it. We can't see Haumea's width in a telescope, and using its brightness to tell its size requires assumptions about its reflectivity. It has two moons. The swift rotational pace of this dwarf planet flattens it, providing it an ellipsoid shape. It also constrains how much the rock might have chemically reacted with liquid water inside Haumea, and tells us how long liquid water might have existed inside Haumea, with important implications for planetary science and astrobiology.

The current hypothesis is that some time ago Haumea slammed into a massive object - creating its two moons, Hi'iaka and Namaka, as well as a smattering of rocks and debris that would later form the ring. That debris would have coalesced into the ring. It was first discovered in 2005, amid a scandal.

"In 2014 we discovered that a very small body in the Centaurs region [an area of small celestial bodies between the asteroid belt and Neptune] had a ring and at that time it seemed to be a very weird thing", explained Dr José Ortiz, whose group at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Granada made the discovery. 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.

Haumea is named after the matron goddess of Hawaii island, atop which the Mauna Kea observatory, from which the planet was discovered, is located.

As far as the context, there are other objects besides Haumea or the gas giants with rings, too. The four big planets which have rings revolving around them are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, but Saturn's rings are by far the biggest and most visible.

Some of the most exciting new discoveries in space come from far, far away, thanks to telescopes capable of detecting exoplanets that are so distant we'd likely never be able to actually visit them, but that doesn't mean there isn't still some pretty interesting stuff here in our own Solar System.

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