Science

Dwarf planet Haumea has its own ring system

Scientists are studying a dwarf planet dubbed Haumea and earlier this year that planet passed between the Earth and a distant star allowing scientists to study the celestial body in finer detail. The findings of that intense study were announced this week and scientists found something very cool about the dwarf planet, which lives in our solar system in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune.

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. In fact, Haumea crosses Pluto’s orbit just as Pluto crosses Neptune’s orbit. Haumea does have its own moons with at least two known to scientists called Hi’iaka and Namaka.

Unlike planets we all know from science classes in school, Hauma isn’t a round globe, it’s shaped more like a river rock. The reason for the odd shape of the dwarf planet according to scientists is that it has an incredibly fast rotation. An entire day on the dwarf planet lasts only four hours.

That rapid spin makes it the fastest-spinning large object known in our solar system. When Haumea passed in front of a star called URAT1 533-182543 on January 21 of this year, scientists were able to view the dwarf planet with 12 telescopes from ten different labs. 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 dwarf planet was determined to be at least 1,430 miles along its longest axis, which was 17% larger than previous estimates. However, the team was able to more accurately estimate its density, which was lower than previous estimates. The new information could cost Haumea its dwarf planet status. The most surprising item learned was that it has rings. The rings could have been caused by a recent collision, but more investigation is needed to determine their origin. The scientists expect to discover more rings as research continues.

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