Peculiar dwarf planet Haumea found to have rings around it

Peculiar dwarf planet Haumea found to have rings around it

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. The team hoped to learn more about the size and shape of the dwarf planet because the distance of that star from Haumea was so vast that its shadow appeared at regular size. The team, made up of worldwide astronomers, watched the dwarf planet briefly pass in front of a star, which blocked out that star's light. An entire day on the dwarf planet lasts only four hours.

On Jan. 21, the astronomy team observed Haumea via 12 telescopes scattered across Europe.

Unlike planets we all know from science classes in school, Hauma isn't a round globe, it's shaped more like a river rock.

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. Two separate teams of astronomers - one led by Ortiz at the Sierra Nevada Observatory, the other led by Mike Brown at Caltech in the U.S. - claimed to have discovered it in close proximity to each other, leading to a dispute that delayed its official naming. In fact, it might be taken out of the "dwarf planets list" that the astronomers composed.

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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.

Like its neighbor Pluto, Haumea takes a very long and elongated path around the sun and at times crosses the path of other celestial bodies. But it's too soon to say for sure whether Haumea really doesn't match up to this criteria.

The researchers revealed that Haumea is surrounded by a ring of material that's roughly 43 miles in width.

The first sign that the dwarf planet might have had rings was when researchers noticed the light being emitted from Haumea dipped just before and after it passed in front of the star designated URAT1 533-182543. Unfortunately, the astronomers have no clue, because the way rings form around giant planets don't seem to mirror how a ring formed around Haumea. Ortiz estimates that about a quarter of bodies in the outer solar system might have rings around them, although he stresses that this is still "pure speculation" for now.

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