Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The ringed asteroid

27.03.2014

Two thin rings made of ice surround the asteroid Chariklo

The asteroid Chariklo, which circles the Sun between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, is surrounded by two thin rings of ice particles. It is thus the fifth body in the Solar System known to exhibit such a ring system – next to the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune – and the first rocky body.


Bright line in the asteroid sky: Chariklo is surrounded by a narrow ring system. During the occultation on 3 June 2013, not only Chariklo itself, but also its ring system briefly dimmed the star's brightness.

© ESO / L. Calçada / Nick Risinger

This result was obtained by an international observational campaign to which scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany contributed. The researchers benefited from a rare occultation on 3 June 2013, when the asteroid passed before a star concealing it for several seconds.

“Sometimes in astronomy you get lucky”, says Colin Snodgrass from the MPS looking back on the chance discovery. Snodgrass was part of the research team led by Felipe Braga-Ribas from the Observatório Nacional in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) that planned to use the occultation on 3 June 2013 to measure the size of asteroid Chariklo.

... more about:
»Jupiter »MPS »Neptune »Saturn »Sun »Uranus »astronomy »measure »orbits

In such a configuration, the asteroid covers the star causing it to disappear briefly – similar to the way the Moon conceals the Sun during a solar eclipse. From the time between the star's vanishing to its reappearence scientists can deduce the asteroid’s size.

To this end, seven observatories in South America pointed their telescopes to the rare alignment on 3 June 2013. However, to everyone's surprise, the star did not just disappear once. In addition, a few seconds before and afterwards its brightness dropped abruptly. Even observatories located outside the viewing-range of the actual occultation observed this effect.

"The analysis of all observational data revealed a surprising result”, says Snodgrass. “Chariklo must be surrounded by a ring." So far, only four bodies with this striking feature are known in the Solar System: the four gas giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. With a diameter of only approximately 250 kilometres Chariklo is significantly smaller. The asteroid belongs to a group of small bodies called Centaurs that circle the Sun beyond the orbit of Jupiter.

The measurements performed with the Danish 1.54-metre telescope of the European Southern Observatory in La Silla (Chile) rendered especially precise results: the data show a ring system, which consists of two distinct structures. "Both rings are very thin, almost filigree from an astronomical point of view," says Snodgrass, who analysed this data. A gap of only nine kilometres separates the inner ring with a width of seven kilometres and the outer ring with a width of three kilometres. The inner ring is clearly brighter.

The new results now offer an explanation for earlier, confusing observations of Chariklo. While some researchers had found signatures of frozen water, others were not able to confirm this. "Apparently, the ice is found in the ring system, rather than on the surface," says Snodgrass. Depending on how the body is inclined as seen from the Earth at the observation time, this ring system produces a weak or a strong signal. "The situation is similar to looking at a sheet of paper from the side”, explains Snodgrass. "If you hold it exactly horizontally at the level of your eyes, it is hard to see. Tilt it slightly and it becomes visible.”

How Chariklo’s ring systems originated, however, is still unclear. The researchers believe that it may have formed from the debris of an earlier collision. Also to be determined is whether Chariklo is one of a kind. Within the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, which is densely populated by probably more than one million smaller and larger chunks, researchers deem the existence of a be-ringed asteroid as unlikely. "Compared to the gas planets, these small bodies have only a minimal gravitational field binding the components of the rings”, Snodgrass points out. Another body passing nearby could destabilize the entire system. Beyond Jupiter, however, the Solar System is a rather deserted place. “Maybe in years to come we will discover other Centaurs like Chariklo”, speculates Snodgrass.

Contact 

Dr. Birgit Krummheuer

Press and Public Relations

Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen

Phone: +49 551 384979-462

 

Dr. Colin Snodgrass

Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen

Phone: +49 551 384979-493

 

Original publication

 
F. Braga-Ribas, B. Sicardy, J. L. Ortiz, C. Snodgrass et al.
A ring system detected around the Centaur (10199) Chariklo
Nature, Advance Online Publication, 26 March 2014

Dr. Birgit Krummheuer | Max-Planck-Institute
Further information:
http://www.mpg.de/8046395/Chariklo-rings-asteroid

Further reports about: Jupiter MPS Neptune Saturn Sun Uranus astronomy measure orbits

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>