from the Rings-Past-Uranus dept.
It's not just Saturn and gas giants such as Uranus which have rings in our solar system – as a tiny dwarf planet has just been spotted with its very own.
It's the first dwarf planet beyond Neptune to be spotted with its own ring – and could prove that such rings are not uncommon in the outer solar system.
takyon: Haumea has two known moons as well as this newly discovered ring:
A stellar occultation observed on 21 January 2017 indicated the possibility of a ring system around Haumea. As published in Nature on 11 October 2017, this occultation was confirmed to be a ring, representing the first such ring discovered for a TNO. The ring has a radius of about 2,287 km, a width of ~70 km and an opacity of 0.5. The ring plane coincides with Haumea's equator and the orbit of its larger, outer moon Hi'iaka. The ring is close to the 3:1 resonance with Haumea's rotation.
Haumea is known for its extremely elongated shape, a consequence of its rapid rotation.
The size, shape, density and ring of the dwarf planet Haumea from a stellar occultation (DOI: 10.1038/nature24051) (DX)
NASA's New Horizons team will again attempt observations of a stellar occultation of 2014 MU69, provisionally nicknamed Ultima Thule. Previous observations made when the object passed in front of a background star suggested that it was a contact binary and may have a small moon:
The goal is to learn as much as possible about 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, which New Horizons will zoom past on Jan. 1, 2019. "This occultation will give us hints about what to expect at Ultima Thule and help us refine our flyby plans," New Horizons occultation-event leader Marc Buie, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement.
This is not the mission team's first shadow rodeo. Last summer, scientists traveled to Argentina and South Africa for occultation observations; the Argentina crew hit the jackpot, gathering data that helped set the planned flyby distance at 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers).
[...] Ultima Thule lies about 1 billion miles (1.6 billion km) beyond Pluto, which New Horizons famously flew by in July 2015. Scientists think Ultima Thule is about 20 miles (32 km) across if it's a single object; if it's two bodies, each component is probably 9 miles to 12 miles (15 to 21 km) long.
Astronomers are still hoping for another mission to Pluto, or perhaps another Kuiper belt object:
A grassroots movement seeks to build momentum for a second NASA mission to the outer solar system, a generation after a similar effort helped give rise to the first one. That first mission, of course, was New Horizons, which in July 2015 performed the first-ever flyby of Pluto and is currently cruising toward a January 2019 close encounter with a small object known as 2014 MU69.
[...] Nearly three dozen scientists have drafted letters in support of a potential return mission to Pluto or to another destination in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of icy bodies beyond Neptune's orbit, Singer told Space.com. These letters have been sent to NASA planetary science chief Jim Green, as well as to the chairs of several committees that advise the agency, she added. "We need the community to realize that people are interested," Singer said. "We need the community to realize that there are important, unmet goals. And we need the community to realize that this should have a spot somewhere in the Decadal Survey." That would be the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, a report published by the National Academy of Sciences that lays out the nation's top exploration priorities for the coming decade.
New Horizons 2 was already cancelled due to a shortage of plutonium-238, which still reportedly persists. One proposed target was 47171 Lempo, a trinary system. The trans-Neptunian dwarf planets Eris, Haumea, Sedna, Orcus, Salacia, Makemake, and 2007 OR10 (the largest known body in the solar system without a name - with an estimated 1,535 km diameter) have all been discovered since 2002. Several of these TNOs have moons and Haumea was recently found to have a ring system.
Now that Cassini is dead, most new NASA missions are focused on Mars and Jupiter, leaving the solar system's "ice giants" relatively unstudied: