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Scientists discover a ring around the rugby-ball shaped dwarf planet Haumea

12 October 2017

Recently, a group of astronomers found a dwarf planet surrounded by ring particles beyond the orbit of Neptune and at the edge of the solar system, according to Verge.

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. Haumea is now officially known as the third body smaller than Neptune hosting rings.

To learn more about this particular dwarf planet, Ortiz and his colleagues worked out that on 12 January this year Haumea would pass in front of a distant star, known by the catchy title URAT1 533-182543, giving them the flawless opportunity to study it in more detail.

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Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea are particularly hard to study due to their small size, low brightness, and enormous distance. Such an impact created the dwarf planet's two moons, Hiʻiaka and Namaka, and probably a cloud of debris, too. In fact, it might be taken out of the "dwarf planets list" that the astronomers composed.

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. The dwarf planet #Haumea, with a total distance of 600 miles from pole to pole, was discovered by astronomers in December 2004, Outer Places reported.

Hauma was also one of a handful of objects that actually led the IAU to rethink the definition of a planet altogether, and reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet. This ring system suggests that the small bodies around the freakish planet could also host rings-and this poses a great challenge for visiting spacecrafts.

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Part of what Ortiz and his colleagues found might throw a spanner in the works for Haumea's classification as a dwarf planet, though. The most surprising item learned was that it has rings. But it's too soon to say for sure whether Haumea really doesn't match up to this criteria.

As for whether the finding at Haumea means MU69 could have New Horizons-smashing rings of its own, Ortiz says he doubts it.

Before this discovery, only four planets in our solar system were considered as ring planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. And we don't yet know how common features like it are either.

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The number of ringed solar objects seems to be increasing in the outer realm of the solar system.

Scientists discover a ring around the rugby-ball shaped dwarf planet Haumea