For years, scientists have been aware of the dwarf planet Quaoar, a seemingly insignificant speck that orbits the sun in the far outer reaches of the solar system. But now, the discovery of a ring that encircles Quaoar has scientists questioning everything they thought they knew about space.
- The ring came as a real surprise,” says Professor Vik Dhillon, who works in the University of Sheffield’s department of physics and astronomy.
“And doubly surprising was where it was, well outside the theoretical maximum for where a ring can survive according to classical theory.”
- In fact, the ring is about twice as far from the planet as what was previously thought to be the maximum radius, Dhillon says. While a ring within the radius is maintained by its host planet’s gravitational pull, circling debris beyond that point usually amalgamates into a moon. Why this hasn’t happened to Quaoar’s ring is anybody’s guess.
“Everyone learns about Saturn’s magnificent rings when they’re a child,” Dhillon says, “so hopefully this new finding will provide further insight into how they came to be.”