This artist’s impression shows a close-up of what the rings might look like.
Photo courtesy of ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger
How well do we know our own backyard? A little better today.
This afternoon, Brazilian astronomers announced the discovery of a double ringed asteroid in the far reaches of our Solar System. While the news wasn’t officially released until today, Twitter was abuzz last evening with talk about what the major discovery could be. Unfortunately, the cat left the bag early. (Some people need to learn the definition of embargo!)
Anyway, back to the news: The asteroid, dubbed Chariklo, is the smallest object in our Solar System known to have rings.
According to lead scientist Felipe Braga-Ribas:
We weren’t looking for a ring and didn’t think small bodies like Chariklo had them at all, so the discovery — and the amazing amount of detail we saw in the system — came as a complete surprise!
Braga-Ribas also thinks a small moon could be orbiting the asteroid.
If that wasn’t cool enough for you, another big announcement relating to the outer Solar System was released today.
A dwarf-planet, called 2012 VP113, was found far beyond Pluto. In an interview with NewScientist, Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, said,
We thought Pluto was unique for over 70 years, but we now know that it shares its orbit with thousands of other objects … Sedna was unique for about 10 years but it’s now clear that Sedna and 2012 VP113 are just the tip of the iceberg.
The tip of the iceberg, indeed. Many say that this recent finding points to a massive planet beyond 2012 VP113. Why? The dwarf planet’s orbit tells scientists that something is going on.
While the latest news is fascinating, it also proves just how little we really know about our own Solar System. Here’s to many more discoveries ahead.