MAY 08, 2019 07:44 AM PDT

Astronomers Delve Into the Dynamics of Haumea's Planetary Ring

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

If you were to ask any average Joe on the street if they could name some of the solar system’s dwarf planets, Pluto would undoubtedly be one of their first responses. But there are so many other dwarf planets out there, and one named Haumea appears to be captivating the interest of a team of astronomers because it’s believed to exhibit a planetary ring.

An artist's rendition of Haumea and its planetary ring.

Image Credit: Kevin Gill/Wikimedia Commons

Astronomers first happened upon Haumea in 2004, and they discovered some of the first tidbits of evidence for planetary rings in 2017 while measuring dips in light as the small, oddly-shaped world passed in front of a distant star. Unfortunately, this occultation is all astronomers can go by, as Haumea is much too far away to observe directly with a space telescope like Hubble.

"The light from the star was observed from Earth as the star was occulted by Haumea," explained Othon Cabo Winter, the lead author of a paper that has been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

"Its brightness decreased as Haumea passed in front of it, enabling the astronomers to obtain information about Haumea's shape. The star's light also faded when the ring passed in front of it, enabling them to obtain information on the ring as well."

Related: What actually causes planetary rings to form in the first place?

It’s very challenging to deduce facts from indirect observations, and with that in mind, precise details regarding Haumea’s planetary ring tend to be somewhat sparse.

Back in 2017, astronomers thought that Haumea’s planetary ring was somewhere in the ballpark of the 1:3 resonance region; in other words, the ring particles make one full revolution after Haumea rotates three times. But the latest study, using computer simulations based on the Poincaré surface-of-section technique, finds that it isn’t the 1:3 resonance that dictates where Haumea’s planetary rings reside, but rather a “family of stable periodic orbits,” as Winter puts it.

"The main aim of our research was to identify the structure of Haumea's ring in terms of the location and size of the stable regions. We also wanted to find the reason for the ring's existence. We were particularly interested in trying to understand the dynamic structure associated with its 1:3 resonance," Winter added.

Related: Saturn's planetary rings are still very young, study concludes

The computer models devised particle trajectory simulations, and as it would seem, Haumea’s planetary rings are comprised of some slightly wonky physics. Some of the rings’ most stable areas, known as islands, exhibited highly-eccentric orbits, while others exhibited very low eccentricity. It’s insinuated that the effects of the two polarizing islands negate one another as they orbit Haumea to create the balance necessary for the planetary ring to exist.

The theory is, of course, based solely on computer simulations and not by direct observations, but it might help explain the peculiar circumstances surrounding Haumea’s planetary ring. One can only hope that technology will one day advance enough to let astronomers directly observe Haumea’s planetary ring and see what’s actually going on over there.

Source: Phys.org, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
3D Printing Could Be the Answer for Habitats on Mars
Deep space missions, such as those to the Moon and Mars, are in our future. NASA, SpaceX, and other top-tier entities in the business of space exploration...
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
Here's What We've Learned About Jupiter From Juno So Far
It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter, but don’t be fooled, as the spacecraft has...
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
ESA's Solar Orbiter is Nearly Ready to Launch
Move over Parker Solar Probe, there’s a new Sun-orbiting spacecraft in town. The European Space Agency has completed the assembly of the Solar Orbite...
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
Hayabusa-2 Departs Ryugu Asteroid to Return to Earth with Samples
It’s been just over a year since JAXA’s renowned Hayabusa-2 mission arrived at asteroid 162173 Ryugu to study the dynamics of the distant space...
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
MAVEN Mission Connects Mars' Wind Patterns to Surface Features
NASA’s MAVEN mission, launched on November 18th, 2013, has been orbiting Mars and investigating the planet’s features for more than half a deca...
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
Why Does This Star Dim Unpredictably?
KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby’s Star or the infamous ‘alien megastructure star,’ is peculiar because the star’s light seems to d...
Loading Comments...