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In a Distant Part of our Solar System, Astronomers Find New Ring Orbiting a Small, Icy World

Billions of miles beyond Neptune, astronomers have found a new ring in space orbiting a small ice world named Quaoar. It was discovered by an international group of researchers with several Brazilian members.

Sixty researchers from different countries used telescopes on Earth and in space to confirm that the ring is orbiting approximately 2,500 miles above the surface of Quaoar.

Quaoar is about 6 billion kilometers from Earth. In other words, if someone were to walk, it would take more than one million years to get there.

Bruno Morgado, an astronomer at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said, “Quaoar is like a cousin of Pluto. It is a little bit further away from us and from our sun but is around half Pluto’s size.”

Dr. Dillon, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, built a sensitive high-speed camera on the world’s largest optical telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands. This telescope observed Quaoar in June 2019.

“This observation was the key to resolving subtle and rapid changes in how much starlight the distant world blotted out. It is a factor of two further out than what was previously recognized as the limit for how far a ring system can exist around a parent body,” Dillon said, “The finding seriously challenges existing theories about ring formation in our corner of the cosmos.”

Mathew Hadman was not involved in the research, but he is a physicist at the University of Idaho and wrote an editorial accompanying the study, saying, “There is something unusual about this system, or that rings can be found in a broader range of conditions than we previously thought.”

Scientists hope to explore and learn more about Quaoar and its ring.

[Source: The Wall Street Journal; Astronomy.com]

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