Space & Astronomy
Distant dwarf planet has its own unique ring system
By T.K. Randall
February 10, 2023 · 5 comments
An artist's impression of Quaoar and its rings. Image Credit: Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia
It turns out that Saturn and the other gas giants are not the only planetary bodies in our solar system to have rings.
Up until relatively recently, it was thought that only Saturn had rings, but as it happens, all of the gas giants in our solar system are home to rings (some being more pronounced than others).
Now, though, it seems as though rings might not even be limited to the gas giants; new astronomical observations have identified what appear to be rings around the dwarf planet known as Quaoar.
This tiny, icy world is situated far out in the Kuiper Belt and takes 288 years to complete one orbit.
Astronomers didn't observe the rings directly, but instead watched Quaoar as it passed in front of a background star and then analyzed the way its light dimmed during that time.
Its rings are particularly unusual because they orbit at a distance of 7 times the radius of the dwarf planet itself.
Exactly how such a ring system came to form curently remains unclear.
"It was doubly unexpected to find the rings so far out from Quaoar, challenging our previous notions of how such rings form," said astronomer Vik Dhillon of the University of Sheffield.
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