Solar System First: Asteroid With Rings

'Centaur' has only rings seen outside gas giants

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 27, 2014 3:09 AM CDT

(Newser) – Only five bodies in the solar system are known to have rings: The gas giants Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus—and Chariklo, a remote asteroid just 154 miles across. Astronomers say they were amazed to spot two rings made up of billion of bits of dust and ice circling the asteroid, which orbits between Saturn and Uranus, CNN reports. "Until now, we had no idea that anything but the giant planets could have rings," a NASA astronomer says, calling the discovery "amazingly cool."

Chariklo is the biggest of a class of objects with unstable orbits known as "centaurs" because they seem part asteroid and part comet, National Geographic explains. The European Southern Observatory astronomer who first spotted the rings says he almost jumped out of his seat when he realized what he had found. His team is now searching for rings around other small bodies, and they believe they may have already spotted another object with similar rings.

An artist's impression of Chariklo and its twin rings.
An artist's impression of Chariklo and its twin rings.   (European Southern Observatory)
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