A rocky body orbiting the sun between Saturn and Uranus is girdled by two rings, scientists have learned.
Previously only giant gas planets, most famously Saturn, were thought to possess bands made up of dust, rocks and ice.
CHARIKLO – THE SURPRISING ASTEROID WITH TWO BELTS
- Diameter: 155miles (250km)
- Original location: In the Kuiper Belt
- Present location: Largest member of the Centaurs
- Rings: Two – comprised of ice particles and pebbles.
- Width of the rings: Two miles and five miles (3km and 7km)
- Thickness of the rings: Few hundred metres
- Distance between the rings: Five miles (9km)
The ringed space rock, called Chariklo, was originally located in the Kuiper Belt, which is a circling group of icy dwarf planets and comets at the edge of the solar system.
At some point it was thrown out of the belt and now exists as the largest member of a group of objects known as the Centaurs, which are small solar system bodies with a an elliptical axis between two outer planets.
|Totally surprising: An asteroid orbiting the sun between Saturn and Uranus (illustrated) is girdled by two rings,
scientists have learned. It is the first time that such a small celestial body with rings has been observed
|The discovery has shocked experts as previously only giant gas planets, most famously Saturn, were thought to
possess rings made up of dust, rocks and ice. An image of Saturn taken by Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft is pictured.
Astronomers stumbled across the rings while using several telescopes to observe Chariklo, which has a diameter of 155miles (250km).
‘We were not even looking for rings, because they had never been observed around small objects like Chariklo, so it is a totally surprising discovery,’ said Dr Uffe Graw Jorgensen, from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
‘We could even determine incredible details about the rings. There are two separate thin rings, which are comprised of ice particles and pebbles.
WATCH: ESOcast – First Ring System Around Asteroid.
WATCH:Artist’s impression of ring system around asteroid Chariklo.
‘The two rings are only three and seven kilometres wide (two and five miles) and no more than a few hundred metres thick.
‘There are eight miles between the centres of the two rings and there is a nine kilometre (five mile) wide gap between them.
‘They have been measured at a distance of two billion kilometres with an accuracy of plus/minus a few hundred metres. It is really impressive.’
The discovery is reported in the latest edition of the journal Nature. – Daily Mail.