- March 28, 2014
Cariklo is the first body after the giant planets found to harbor a ring system
Astronomers have discovered rings around an asteroid-like body whose orbit is between those of Saturn and Uranus. At just 250 kilometers across, Chariklo is the smallest body so far found to have rings. Previously, only the giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — have been seen sporting them.
Published online today in Nature, the finding indicates that rings may be a more common feature than previously thought. The discovery was an accident and a surprise, says lead author Felipe Braga-Ribas, an astronomer at the National Observatory in Rio de Janeiro. Rings are interesting celestial features, as they are often a first step in the formation of planets and moons. But matter would typically struggle to stay stable around a body with only a tiny gravitational pull. “We thought that maybe having rings was linked with the mass of the object. So finding them on a small object was very unexpected,” he says.