Haumea has a Ring! (And Other Dwarf Planets No One Remembers)

Kasia Krzyzanska

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Recently, it was confirmed that Haumea, a dwarf planet, has a ring. Currently it is the only dwarf planet and object past Neptune to have one.

However, the problem is (let’s face it) that Haumea, like many dwarf planets, is sadly forgotten by the general public. The only one with any major recognition is Pluto, and even this dwarf is known rather for not being a planet than being a dwarf planet itself. But our solar system is made up of many, many more objects than the now-eight planets, and it is unfair that any of should go so ignored for so long.

In elementary school, we all learned about the nine planets (My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets!), or at least, we almost did (My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nothing 😞 ). On August 24, 2006, Pluto was officially demoted from a planet to a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union, causing much upset in defense of the poor little thing. After all, how DARE we discriminate against a planet, a part of our solar family, just for being tiny? Well, truth be told, we already had demoted some smaller members of our system.

For example, when Ceres was discovered in 1801, it was first assumed to be a planet. However, as the decades passed, more “planets” were discovered in the same general region, between Mars and Jupiter. This was highly suspicious; what were so many tiny planets doing there? By 1863, it was decided that the classification of “planet” shouldn’t include all these very small, not-quite-round floating space rocks. Instead, they got a new name: asteroids. And so, Ceres got demoted from being a mighty planet to a mere asteroid until 2006, when the new classification that brought down Pluto raised it back up. After all, Ceres is no normal asteroid; it is mostly round, and is so big, it is almost the size of Texas. Certainly, that is dwarf planet worthy.

Since 2006, a lucky few other trans-Neptunian objects (or objects past the planet Neptune) have been named dwarf planets. Aside from Pluto, they include Eris, Makemake, and Haumea. Currently, in order to be a dwarf planet, an object must be big enough to use gravity to pull itself into a mostly-round sphere, and it must travel around the sun without clearing its path of other pesky objects like comets or asteroids. If it did do this, then it would be a planet rather than a dwarf planet.

However, most trans-Neptunian planetoids do not obviously meet these qualifications, and as most objects are named only after they are classified, these poor sad small stones are faced with virtual obscurity, having nothing better to signify them than a number such as “2010 KZ 39”. Though there is a ton of these objects, and science can only move so fast, you can’t help but feel bad for some of these little guys. Take Sedna, which is the largest known object beyond Pluto, or Ixion, which is comparable in size to Ceres. Both these almost-planets are currently being considered for dwarf planet-hood (yay), but that doesn’t solve the problem: people still haven’t heard of them.

This is why it’s nice to hear that the discovery of Haumea’s rings from January 2017 was confirmed on October 12. Not only does this egg-shaped dwarf apparently have a ring, but it also appears to be larger and less dense than we expected, making its largest diameter similar to Pluto’s.

As far as these planetoids are concerned, any news is good news, and it’s certainly good to hear that our distant friends at the edge of the solar system are not completely forgotten. Everyone was so disappointed when Pluto was seemingly tossed off the charts into dwarf-obscurity; let’s change that, not by fighting to bring Pluto back as a planet, but by at least knowing other dwarfs exist. So what if they’re tiny inanimate rocks millions of miles away from us- that’s no excuse to IGNORE them! Haumea is family, and family means that no one is left behind or forgotten.

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