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Icy Rings Discovered Around Asteroid

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Artist interpretation of the rings around the remote asteroid Chariklo. (Credit: European Southern Observatory)

Artist interpretation of the rings around the remote asteroid Chariklo. (Credit: European Southern Observatory)

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LONDON (CBS Tampa) – A new find has astronomers rethinking their views on our solar system after finding icy rings around an asteroid.

It’s called Chariklo and it orbits the sun between Saturn and Uranus. Scientists were surprised to find it has two dense and narrow rings.

“This is the smallest object by far found to have rings, and only the fifth body in the Solar System, after the much larger planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, to have this feature,” said the European Southern Observatory.

One ring is just over 4 miles wide while the second is a bit under 2 miles wide.

Astronomers made the discovery as the asteroid passed in front of a star during what they thought was a routine observation.

“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!” says Felipe Braga-Ribas, who planned the observation campaign and is lead author on the new paper.

He speculates the rings may have been formed from a debris field created by other celestial impacts and that they may contain a sizable volume of ice.

The rings have been nicknamed Oiapoque and Chuí, after two rivers in Brazil. Chariklo itself is named for a mythological nymph who married to a centaur.

The scientists say Chariklo may yield further surprises down the road. “So, as well as the rings, it’s likely that Chariklo has at least one small moon still waiting to be discovered,” said Braga-Ribas.

Further study may shed more light on conditions during the creation of our solar system and may help explain the formation of our moon.

The report is published in the journal Nature.

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