This weirdo dwarf planet has a ring around it


Astronomers believe there's another dwarf planet surrounded by objects orbiting in the space. But Haumea is a bit different.

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. Aside from that, scientists didn't know a whole lot about it - until now. As New Scientist details, astronomer Jose-Luis Ortiz's team claimed the first discovery in 2005.

This handout photo released by Nature shows an artistic view of Haumea and its ring system with correct proportions for the main body and the ring. "But it fits in perfectly with our understanding of how this remarkable dwarf planet formed".

Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea are particularly hard to study due to their small size, low brightness, and enormous distance.

But Haumea's recent story goes even deeper than that; its discovery a decade ago was rooted in controversy.

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. It wasn't until 2008 that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially classified it as the fifth dwarf planet, gave it the name Haumea - a suggestion that came from the United States team - and left the name of its discoverer blank.

That egg, called Haumea, is now the first official dwarf planet found to host a ring system, and only the third body smaller than Neptune known to have rings. 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. "So, we did not have a clear clue that Haumea could have a ring".

That rapid spin makes it the fastest-spinning large object known in our solar system. But it's too soon to say for sure whether Haumea really doesn't match up to this criteria.

As far as the context, there are other objects besides Haumea or the gas giants with rings, too.

Before this discovery, only four planets in our solar system were considered as ring planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

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.