A Brazilian team of scientists unveiled a fantastic discovery on our Solar System on March, 27: An asteroid with rings!
On June 3, 2013, this team from the European South’s Observatory (ESO), together with other institutions, was surprised with this discovery while observing an asteroid, named Chariklo, as it passed in front of a distant star, in a process known as an “occultation”, allowing scientists to learn more about certain bodies.
Taking this event, the objective was to measure more accurately the diameter of Chariklo, among other characteristics of this asteroid. However, led by Felipe Braga-Ribas, the team detected the presence of two rings around Chariklo, something that, to date, was only known in the massive planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Only one of the seven telescopes utilized, located in Chile, was able to capture the small gap between the rings.
Felipe Braga-Ribas said they were not looking for rings and they didn’t think that small bodies like Chariklo had them at all, so the discovery came as a complete surprise to the team. The scientist also commented that the discovery shows that the size of a body is not important to have, or not have, rings.
From a class of celestial bodies known as the Centaurs, orbiting the Sun between Saturn and Uranus, Chariklo is the largest one with a diameter of 155 miles (250 km). The system consists of a dense, 4-mile-wide (7 km) ring near the planet, and a smaller 2-mile-wide (3 km) ring farther out.
The two rings were baptised by the team as Oyapock and Chui, two rivers that are located near the north and south ends of Brazil.
The origin of these rings is unknown but it is possible that a collision has scattered debris around Chariklo. Very dense, bright and possibly formed by rocks and water ice, the rings are similar to those around Saturn, but in quite different scales.
The age of these rings is still a mystery. If a small moon is discovered around the asteroid, keeping the rings in line, it is possible that this system could have lasted since the beginnings of our solar system.
According to the ESO, there is the likelihood that these rings may come to form a satellite, which, to scale, could explain the formation of our Moon in the early days of the solar system, as well as the origin of many other satellites orbiting planets and asteroids.
With this discovery it is possible that more asteroids with rings might come to be found. In fact, in this immense universe where we are just a mere grain of sand, there is much yet to be discovered!
We hope that with the advancement of technology, more amazing things about our Universe come to be discovered.