A Dwarf Planet 'Haumea' Is Discovered Beyond the Orbit of Neptune

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Artist's impression. Credit IAA-CSIC UHU

The term "dwarf planet" probably brings to mind bodies like Pluto - ideal spheres that only just miss out on true planethood.

Haumea's ring has a radius of almost 1,500 miles, the team discovered, and it moves very slowly in contrast with its host planet.

Haumea's ring was discovered by an worldwide team of astronomers operating on an ongoing program to designate Trans-Neptunian Objects or objects that are distant from the sun than Neptune.

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The stellar backdrop took place in January this year, and the perspectives from 12 different angles enabled the team to observe the dwarf planet like never before, and gave us our first glimpse at its ring system. This allowed the planetary researchers to build a better theory about the size and shape of dwarf planet. We now know it has a 70km-wide ring orbiting around its equator, 2,000km away from the planet itself. This dwarf planet takes only four hours to make one spin.

Ortiz's team has put together a YouTube visualisation of the rings, below.

Centaurs, which have unstable orbits, are considered large comets, not planets, which means this is the first observation of a ring around a dwarf planet. Haumea is now officially known as the third body smaller than Neptune hosting rings. In fact, it might be taken out of the "dwarf planets list" that the astronomers composed.

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

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 ideal opportunity to study it in more detail.

Yet another surprise arose from the Ortiz team's measurement: Haumea is dimmer than the 0.7 albedo previously assigned to it.

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Haumea's ring is less reflective than the dwarf planet's bright water ice surface, suggesting it is made up of a mixture of rock and ice. The event that marked the presence of a ring-like structure was noted in the telescopes; before and after Haumea blotted out the star, the telescopes also saw the starlight slightly fade out again.Scientists also predict that the use of occultation to find a ring around Haumea may help others detect rings around similar distant objects.

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