Scientists discover ring around dwarf planet Haumea beyond Neptune

Artist’s impression of the dwarf planet Haumea and its moons Hi’aka and Namaka. Credit NASA

Astronomers have discovered the fourth-largest dwarf planet in the Solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune, the ring.

The new measurements confirmed Haumea's density - slightly lower than we thought - but its odd shape means its gravity is not strong enough to make itself round, which could see it miss out on the criteria set out for a cosmic body to be named a dwarf planet. But Haumea is a bit different. Its diameter is approximately a third of the size of Earth's moon.

The presumption that only larger planets like Saturn can host rings has been busted. In fact, it might be taken out of the "dwarf planets list" that the astronomers composed.

Unlike planets we all know from science classes in school, Hauma isn't a round globe, it's shaped more like a river rock. Oritz says there is more than one possible answer to that question.

Haumea's discovery in 2005 was contentious.

Ortiz's team has put together a YouTube visualisation of the rings, below. 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 U.S. team - and left the name of its discoverer blank. The total number of officially recognised dwarf planets is now five, but some astronomers argue there could be hundreds of objects in the solar system that fit the definition. 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. As much as planetary scientists are fascinated by this discovery, they claim that they had already kind of assumed the ring's presence on the exotic planet.

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 group, led by José Luis Ortiz Moreno (J L Ortiz), a minor planet specialist at the Sierra Nevada Observatory in Granada, presented its findings today in Nature.

On Jan. 21, 2017, Haumea passed in front of a distant star - a process called occultation by scientists.

The dwarf planet got its name after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth and fertility, according to NASA.

The rings could be key to figuring out Haumea's history.

A ring system had previously been discovered around a centaur dubbed Chariklo.

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