Asteroids used to be only the small idle objects in the asteroid belt rotating between Mars and Jupiter, or in many cases, anywhere around the Solar System. They used to not exhibit any kind of special behavior other than being cold ice bodies. Not anymore. The astronomers at Appalachian State University published their incredible discovery just recently – a small orbiting asteroid between Saturn and Uranus, called Chariklo, at about 250 kilometers in diameter has a clearly distinct ice ring system consisted of two rings, 3 and 7 kilometers wide. The rings were nicknamed Oiapoque and Chui, after two Brazilian rivers. The approximate distance from Earth is about one billion kilometers, looking like a minor faint body.
In their article for Nature, the researchers have expressed that the rings may be more common around objects than previously thought. Besides Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, this is the first object projecting such phenomena, but that may not be it. Chances of discovering such objects increase when the first one is found, they said. The discovery of the asteroid’s first ring system was a pure incident by the professor at Appalachian State University Joseph Pollock, who has previously done years of work in chasing asteroids in the Solar System.
According to the Appalachian University News, the procedure that lead to the discovery was by monitoring Chariklo when it overlapped a star, enabling for the researchers to explore its features. Surprisingly, there were two short dips blocking the light of the star that were not an actual part of the object itself, indicating the traces of the ring system. Fellipe Braga Rippas, one of the team members from Observatorio Nacional, said for the European Suthern Observatory (ESO) that they weren’t looking for rings in an asteroid, and they didn’t think that a small object like Chariklo had them. The discovery was a complete surprise! He added that the most interesting outcome of this discovery was that they thought a body could form rings only if it had a large mass. But now, the gravitational pull could originate from somewhere else.
Scientists believe that the ring formation of Chariklo may be due to colliding with another object, leaving its own debris. Another theory states that Chariklo may used to behave like a comet, and left its own traces around it. How they were quite formed remains a mystery. According to ESO, many objects outside of the asteroid belt may behave like asteroids and comets, also known as centaurs. Research has shown that Chariklo doesn’t have comet behavior even though it is rotating in the region where most centaurs are.
The international teams of researchers are waiting for the moment for a possible moon to be formed in the future around the asteroid from its own ring system. Chariklo may already have one to be found as researchers curiously continue to perform measurements and follow its trajectory. This phenomenon may be proved to be a normal cycle of all stellar object formations, including the Solar System, the planets, as well as other remaining bodies.
by Marija Makeska