There's a potato-shaped dwarf planet in our solar system, and scientists have just discovered that it's got its very own ring.
The discovery, led by astronomer Jose Luis Ortiz from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain, took more than a little coordination to pull off. The new information could cost Haumea its dwarf planet status.
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. "After our work, we can say that Haumea is far less rocky and it can have an interior more similar to that of Pluto".
Ortiz's team has put together a YouTube visualisation of the rings, below. In 2006, it was revealed that some of them could be as large as Pluto, which led the International Astronomical Union to create the category of dwarf planets.
The number of ringed solar objects seems to be increasing in the outer realm of the solar system.
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"It shows that the presence of rings could be much more common than was previously thought, in our solar system as well as in other planetary systems". "The authors' results suggest that Haumea might not be in hydrostatic equilibrium, and this touches on the still-sensitive topic of how planets and dwarf planets should be defined", writes Amanda Sickafoose, an astronomer at MIT, in an accompanying article also published in Nature today.
In fact, all of its strangeness might be linked with Haumea and its two moons - Hi'aka and Namaka - potentially originating from a larger Haumea that was struck by something in the Kuiper Belt.
Named after the Hawaiian deity of childbirth, it is among a handful of known dwarf planets beyond the orbit of Neptune, which with the other so-called giant planets - Saturn, Uranus and Jupiter - all have rings.
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. But as for how it formed, we don't yet know. This ring system suggests that the small bodies around the freakish planet could also host rings-and this poses a great challenge for visiting spacecrafts.