In recent times, some unusual events have been seen in space that revised some of our existing theories based on celestial discoveries. In a new finding, some non-planetary bodies have been viewed to possess rings system, just like planets, thanks to highly advanced telescopes.
Space rocks (or asteroids) had been found to be the first non-planetary bodies which have their own set of ring system. James V. Scott of the Spacewatch program discovered an asteroid named 10199 Chariklo on February 15, 1997. It was named after the nymph Chariclo, wife of Chiron and the daughter of Apollo. A photometric study in 2001 was unable to find a definite period of rotation. Infrared observations of 10199 Chariklo indicate the presence of water ice, which may in fact be located in its rings.
Earlier, the existence of a ring system around a minor planet was unexpected because it had been thought that rings could only be stable around much more massive bodies and it was undiscovered despite the search for them through direct imaging and stellar occultation techniques. These rings should disperse over a period of at most a few million years, so either they are very young, or they are actively contained by shepherd moons with a mass comparable to that of the rings.
A team of astronomers and researchers in different places used 7 most powerful telescopes, but only one was able to observe this occultation event, that means when and how long star’s light is dimmed by a centaur, which is an asteroid-like object. Not only this, scientists were able to find the shape, size and orientation of the rings. The pair of two spectacular sharp and really bright space rock rings which encircle 10199 Chariklo asteroid, can be seen passing in the sky from the asteroid’s surface.
Occultation refers to an event that occurs when one object (star) is hidden (disappears behind its occulting body) by another object that passes between it and the observer. One can understand the phenomenon through an example of a visual scene observed from low-flying aircraft when foreground objects obscure distant objects dynamically, as the scene changes over time.
Forecasts show that, as seen from South America on 3 June 2013, it would pass in front of a 12.4- magnitude star located in Scorpius constellation. 10199 Chariklo is said to be the largest confirmed centaur, of equivalent diameter of 252 km (minor/ dwarf planet of the outer solar system). It orbits the sun between Saturn and Uranus in the outer solar system. Only few hundred of Asteroids like 10199 Chariklo are detected currently. The primary occultation event of 10199 Chariklo was accompanied by 4 additional small decreases in the overall intensity of the light curve. A stellar occultation in 2013 revealed that 10199 Chariklo has two rings with radii 396 km and 405 km and widths of about 7 km and 3.5km respectively. The rings are approximately 9 km apart. This makes 10199 Chariklo the smallest known object to have rings. On 26 march 2014, astronomer announced the discovery of two rings (Oiapoque, the inner, more substantial and Chui, outer ring around 10199 Chariklo by observing a stellar occultation, making it the first minor planet known to have rings.
Centaurs originated in the kuper belt are in dynamically unstable orbits that will lead to ejection from the solar system, an impact with a planet or sun, or transition into a short-period comet. Centaurs share features with comets and asteroids. The elongated shape of 10199 Chariklo explain most of the brightness variability resulting in darker rings than previously determined.
10199 Chariklo system has increased rightness by a factor of 1.5 again and infrared water ice spectral features have reappeared. This suggests that, the rings are composed at least partially of water ice. An icy ring composition is also consistent with the expected density of a disrupted body within 10199 Chariklo’s Roche’s Limit.
With this evolutionary discovery, it is now confirmed that tiny-ringed asteroid can also help researchers to explore more about galaxy formation.