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A ring around a dwarf planet in the solar system has been discovered. It goes against the rules of astrophysics

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Quaoar, a dwarf planet located at the edge of the solar system, is surrounded by an ice ring. This feature of the celestial body was spotted by the Cheops telescope belonging to the European Space Agency. Scientists, however, are puzzled by the location of the ring – it is so far from the planet that it should not exist.

In the solar system there are celestial bodies surrounded by rings. The most famous are the rings around Saturn, but Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune have ring systems as well planetoid Chariklo and the dwarf planet Haumea. The Cheops telescope belonging to the European Space Agency also observed them around Quaoar – a small celestial body that is a candidate for the title of a dwarf planet.

As it turned out, the existence of the latter rings contradicts the laws of physics.

Far beyond the border

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Quaoar has a diameter of about 1,110 kilometers and is located far beyond Neptune’s orbit in the Kuiper belt (extending beyond Neptune’s orbit). The celestial body orbits the Sun at a distance of almost 44 times that of Earth, accompanied by a tiny moon called Weywot. The Cheops telescope recently discovered that there is also a single ice ring 8,200 km in diameter around the object.

“When we collected all the data, we saw dips in brightness that (…) indicated the presence of material in orbit around it,” said Bruno Morgado of the University of Rio de Janeiro, the lead author of the study.

Unlike all other known rings, the one around Quaoar is outside the so-called the Roche limit. This term means the zone around a celestial body, within which an object captured by it would be torn to pieces. So far, all observed rings have been within this limit. Material beyond the Roche limit should have compacted into a compact satellite, but in the case of Quaoar’s rings, this did not happen.

Quaoar and his rings – artist’s visionESA/ATG

The reasons remain unknown

‘The rings can be made of the same material as the central body, or of matter from a collision with another object,’ explained Isabella Pagano of the Catania Astrophysical Observatory, co-author of the study. “At this point, we don’t know what formed Quaoar’s rings,” she added.

Scientists have several hypotheses about the origin of the enigmatic structure. The ring could have been formed as a result of a collision with the planet’s moon orbiting the celestial body, and scientists just managed to spot it before it crashed into a satellite. However, Pagano admits that the probability of seeing this is extremely low. The solution to the puzzle may also lie in the gaps in our knowledge of ring formation.

“Perhaps we need to revisit theories about the clumping of ice particles,” explains the scientist. “It may turn out that they will not always aggregate into larger bodies as quickly as you might expect.”

ESA, Reuters, The Guardian

Main photo source: ESA/ATG

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