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12 October 2017, 05:04 | Edward Lowe
Today, scientists are reporting the discovery of a vast ring encircling Haumea, a distant dwarf planet that takes some 284 Earth years to orbit the Sun, and it's the first time we've seen a ring in this category of minor planet. It seems that scientists keep discovering other objects - and not planets - that are being rounded by rings.
They say the dwarf planet has an unusual elongated ellipsoid shape, with axes of approximately 2,322 kilometres (1,442 miles) by 1,704 kilometres (1,059 miles) by 1,138 kilometres (707 miles), and no global atmosphere that can be detected. Oritz says there is more than one possible answer to that question.
Ortiz's team has put together a YouTube visualisation of the rings, below.
The planet, dubbed Haumea, orbits the Sun far beyond Neptune - the eighth and furthest recognized "full" planet in our star system since Pluto was downgraded to dwarf status in 2006, AFP reported Wednesday.
That rapid spin makes it the fastest-spinning large object known in our solar system. Jose Ortiz of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain said that it is regrettable that even with the most enormous telescopes on Earth, or the Hubble Space Telescope, we can not see the details of Haumea, than a dot of light. The most surprising item learned was that it has rings.
Part of what Ortiz and his colleagues found might throw a spanner in the works for Haumea's classification as a dwarf planet, though. Haumea does have its own moons with at least two known to scientists called Hi'iaka and Namaka.
The dwarf planet got its name after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth and fertility, according to NASA.
Of course, rings around larger worlds in the Solar System are common, and while Saturn's is the most famous and extensive, there are also ring systems around the other giant planets: Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune.
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. This ring system suggests that the small bodies around the weird planet could also host rings-and this poses a great challenge for visiting spacecrafts.
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