Astronomers have discovered a dwarf planet called Quaoar in the far reaches of our solar system. What makes this planet special are the rings around it, but the reason for these rings cannot be explained.
As well as Saturn’s iconic rings, some other planets also have rings. Scientists still don’t fully understand the properties of these rings or how they form, and a recent discovery complicates what they thought they knew .
The dwarf planet Quaoar is located far beyond Neptune in what is known as the Kuiper Belt. With a diameter of about 1,100 kilometers, Quaoar is the seventh largest object in its belt, but is about half the size of Pluto and is about 6.4 billion kilometers from Earth.
The existence of rings around the dwarf planet Quaoar has been confirmed by the European Space Agency‘s (ESA) Cheops telescope. This discovery surprised the scientific community because there are certain conditions for a planet/celestial body to have a ring. If two objects come too close to each other, the object with strong gravity will tear the other apart. We call the limit distance where this happens the Roche Limit. Interestingly, Quaoar’s ring has formed almost seven and a half times the planet’s radius. In short, far from what it should be.
Parts beyond the Roche Limit are expected to come together over time and become satellites. This does not seem to be the case in the Quaoar scenario, and the reason is inexplicable. ESA recognizes that more information is needed and that we need to reconsider our knowledge of ring systems and the Roche Limit.