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Astronomers have found a new ring system in the outer solar system

Artistic depiction of Quaoar and its outer ring system.
Illustration: Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia

Researchers observing a background star passing behind Quaoar, a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, have discovered that this distant object has a ring system unlike any previously found in our solar system.

The team did not directly observe the ring system; they discovered it because the light behind Quaoar dimmed when the planetoid passed in front of it. dwarf planet, discovered back in 2002it takes 288 years to complete one revolution around the sun. team research published today in Nature.

According to the Planetary Society, ring systems can form in several ways. They form around planets when the planet’s gravitational force pulls smaller bodies around it, such as moons. Others, such as Jupiter, are formed by dust particles ejected by the planet’s moons as a result of micrometeor impacts.

“Everyone learns about Saturn’s magnificent rings as children, so we hope this new discovery helps us better understand how they came about,” said Vic Dillon, an astronomer at the University of Sheffield and co-author of the paper. in university edition.

HiPERCAM, a 34-foot-wide camera on the Gran Telescopio Canaria in Spain, captured the ring system during the eclipse.

When Quaoar (pronounced Quaoar) passed in front of the background star, the star’s light dimmed three times – once during the occultation itself, as well as briefly before and after. This indicated to researchers that there is mass on either side of the dwarf planet; they believe it to be a ring system distant from the planetoid itself.

While the ring system is interesting in its own right, the distance it is from Quaoar is startling, as it orbits more than seven times the radius of the dwarf planet. Against, The main rings of Saturn are only three planetary radii from a luminous gas giant. Around 690 miles (1100 kilometers) wide, Quaoar is a little lower half the size of Pluto.

“It was doubly unexpected to find rings so far away from Quaoar that it challenges our previous understanding of how such rings form,” Dillon said.

Additional observations of the Quaoar system may shed light on its composition and origin. Quaoar has now pushed the boundaries of what astronomers think ring structures might look like; it is the duty of other celestial bodies to show us whether Quaoar is part of the rule or the exception.

More: You’ve never seen Neptune like this

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