Asteroid Chariklo Joins Exclusive Club Of Ringed Objects In Our Solar System
Astronomers have made the surprise discovery that a centaur class asteroid, or minor planet, named Chariklo plays host to two narrow rings, making it the fifth and smallest object in our solar system to possess the spectacular feature. Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus all possess rings, with Saturn's being the most iconic, but at just 250km wide Chariklo is far, far smaller.
The discovery was made using seven different telescopes from across South America, and as Astronomer Felipe Braga-Ribas says, the findings were completely unexpected.
"We weren't even looking for a ring and didn't even think small bodies like Chariklo had them at all," exclaims Braga-Ribas. "So the discovery - and the amazing amount of detail we saw in the system - came as a complete surprise!"
Chariklo orbits between Saturn and Uranus and astronomers got the chance to observers as the large 'Centaur-Class' object passed in front of a star last June. Utilizing telescopes in multiple locations, astronomers were able to start building a picture of Chariklo as it passed in front of the distant star. But, to their surprise they noticed that there was not one dip in the star's light but three, with a fainter dip either side of the main event. It was these two fainter dips, witnessed from multiple locations, that alerted the researchers to the presence of the two dusty rings.
While there is a great deal more work needed to answer all of the questions these rings have raised, researchers are now theorizing that a small moon may also be present near Chariklo.
"So, as well as the rings, it is likely that Chariklo has at least one small moon still waiting to be discovered." said Felipe Braga-Ribas.
For more on this surprising discovery, check out ESO's coverage.