Step aside Saturn: Little asteroid has rings too

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Thu Mar 27, 2014 5:26am IST

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - It is not just Saturn and the giant gas planets of the solar system that bear rings. For the first time, rings have been found around an asteroid, a study published on Wednesday shows.

The asteroid, known as Chariklo, is more than 621 million miles (1 billion km) from Earth, circling the sun in an orbit between Saturn and Uranus.

On June 3, 2013, astronomers at seven different locations in Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina were standing by to observe Chariklo. They hoped dips in starlight would reveal details of the 154-mile (248-km) asteroid's size and shape.

They ended up with much more. Analyzing flickers of light during the occultation revealed two dense rings circling Chariklo.

Previously, only the giant planets Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune were known to have rings.

"We weren't looking for a ring and didn't think small bodies like Chariklo had them at all," lead astronomer Felipe Braga-Ribas, with Brazil's National Observatory in Rio de Janeiro, said in a statement. "The discovery…came as a complete surprise."

Chariklo's rings have crisp edges, a feature typically caused by the gravitational effects of a small embedded moon or moons.

"It's likely that Chariklo has at least one small moon still waiting to be discovered," Braga Ribas said.

Chariklo's inner ring is 4.3 miles (7 km) wide and the outer ring is 1.9 miles (3 km) wide. The bands are separated by a 5.6 mile- (9 km-) wide gap.

The origin of the rings is not known, but scientists suspect they formed after another body crashed into Chariklo, forming a debris disk of icy particles.

The research is published in this week's issue of the journal Nature.

(Editing by Andrew Hay)

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Polanski Questioned

Polanski Questioned

Polish prosecutors question Polanski over U.S. sex crime warrant.  Full Article 

Cook Speaks Up

Cook Speaks Up

Apple's Cook signals front line of new gay rights battle.  Full Article 

Upcoming Project

Upcoming Project

Coen Brothers tap Clooney, Johansson for all-star studio comedy.  Full Article 

Book Talk

Book Talk

Alan Cumming believes in putting everything out there.  Full Article 

Wrongful Death Suit

Wrongful Death Suit

Gregg Allman dropped from suit over fatal Georgia train accident.  Full Article 

Talking Television

Talking Television

Frances McDormand's face does the talking in 'Olive Kitteridge'.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage