March 27, 2014

First Ring System Around Asteroid Discovered

(An artist's concept of the newly discovered system.)

According to a report published yesterday (March, 26th, 2014) in the journal Nature, new observations have shown that the asteroid, Chariklo, is surrounded by rings. It is not only believed to be the smallest object found to have rings, but also the fifth body in the Solar System to have rings. According to the researchers, the discovery of such a small body having rings "came as a complete surprise." (Braga-Ribas)
There are two rings in total and they are described as "dense and narrow" and have been nicknamed Oiapoque and Chuí, after two rivers near the northern and southern extremes of Brazil. It is thought that Oiapoque and Chuí are made of debris from a previous collision. Still, the origin of Chariklo's rings remain a mystery. Interestingly, Chariklo is only about 250 kilometers in diameter and is more than a billion kilometers from Earth. It appears to be more like an asteroid, as it has not displayed any activity characteristic of a comet. This duel characterization is why Chariklo has been classed as a Centaur, after the creature from mythology.
In addition to rings, researchers speculate that Chariklo has at least one small moon yet to be discovered. By studying the rings and possibly discovering a moon, the researchers hope to find clues about the formation of Earth’s moon, as well as the origin of any other satellites around planets and asteroids. This is an exciting discovery and an exciting time for astronomy. So often, it seems that the prevalence of technology has allowed some to think that there is nothing much new to discover, as though we hit some sort of peak. Discoveries such as this remind us of how comparatively little we know and how much is still left to discover.

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