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Where Do The Rings Around Two Minor Planets Come From?

Where Do The Rings Around Two Minor Planets Come From?

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First Posted: Sep 23, 2016 03:19 AM EDT
Chariklo with rings eso1410b
Observations at many sites in South America, including ESO’s La Silla Observatory, have made the surprise discovery that the remote asteroid Chariklo is surrounded by two dense and narrow rings. This is the smallest object by far found to have rings and only the fifth body in the Solar System — after the much larger planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — to have this feature. The origin of these rings remains a mystery, but they may be the result of a collision that created a disc of debris. ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

Most astronomers believed that the only ringed planets were Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus. In 2014, other ringed planets were identified. These are Chariklo and Chiron, known as minor planets or centaurs that orbit the Sun between Jupiter and Neptune. Meanwhile, the scientists are trying to figure out why are these minor planets have rings.

The Evolving Planet reports that in the study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters the researchers discovered that a collision with any of the planets can cause a minor planet to have new rings. There are high chances that these minor planets would have the close encounter with the big planets. The minor planets might have been pulled apart by gravitational pull towards the giant planets because of the disruption from the tidal pull. The clash then explains the existence of the new rings.

The study was led by Ryuki Hyodo, a researcher from Kobe University with co-authors Professor Keiji Ohsuki, Professor Sebastien Charnoz, and the Project Associate Professor Hildeenori Genda. The team used computer simulations to examine what caused the rings. They also considered factors such as the size of the centaur's core, initial spin, tidal pull and the distance to the giant planet.

Hyodo said that they have performed many various simulations and showed that in many cases the ring or moon/satellite formation naturally takes place. He further said that their simulations can already apply to other Centaurs and they estimated about 10 percent of Centaurs could have rings or small moon(s) as long as they differentiated, as noted by Lab News.

There are approximately 44,000 centaurs in the Solar System and have diameters larger than 1 km. Centaurs have the semi-major axis between those of the outer planets and have unstable orbits that cross one or more giant planets. The name centaurs were derived from mythological centaurs meaning a mixture of horse and human. They are characterized as both asteroids and comets.


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