back to article Ring system discovered around dwarf planet Quaoar leaves astronomers puzzled

A ring system has been spotted around dwarf planet Quaoar at a distance astronomers didn't believe was possible, defying astronomical theories on how these structures form. Quaoar lies in the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune. The icy rock is 1,121 kilometers (697 miles) wide, about half the diameter of Pluto. Quaoar is a distant …

  1. badflorist Silver badge

    Did you hear about Pluto?

    Messed up...

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge


    It's made from scrith. Keep an eye out for Protectors.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Obviously

      "As a result of our observations, the classical notion that dense rings survive only inside the Roche limit of a planetary body must be thoroughly revised," - Giovanni Bruno

      This is a good illustration of the situation that when we see 'problems' then studying them hard can result in us getting a better view of events, not just astronomically but in virtually every situation. I have always found problems to be very helpful in educating me about things that I'd never thought about before.

    2. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Obviously

      Paging Mr Brennan, could Mr Jack Brennan please make himself known.

    3. hplasm

      Re: Obviously

      Haldeman Collapsar.

      We've found the way out of this game!

      /if only

  3. Fullbeem

    Looking forward to this sort of stuff in KSP2

  4. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    Properly married to their work..

    These astronomers. They even put a ring on it.....

    Mines the one with the towel in the pocket, I'll see myself out.

  5. DJO Silver badge


    A couple of small moons if in the right place would shepherd debris in to a ring between them.

    Also on the Roche limit thing, Saturn's inner moons orbit within the rings so plainly rings and moons can exist in similar orbits.

    1. Fred Daggy Silver badge

      Re: shepherds?

      That's no moon.

      (looks the closest to Skywalker, A, just not very) -->

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: shepherds?

        I've got a bad feeling about this ... and that's just your icon

    2. dhartsock

      Re: shepherds?

      Depends on the nature of the object. But yes, it is obviously possible for some objects.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: shepherds?

        Not to mention that the article states that debris outside the Roche limit will coalesce into a moon and we are seeing that debris as a recently formed ring that is in the very early stages of coalescing

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Ice volcanos beyond Pluto ?

    Okay, Space is wierd and very, very large, but if it's already wierd that a 1,100 km-wide ball of stuff has a ring system, it is absolutely mind-boggling that it might have cryovolcanoes.

    Jupiter's moon Io has volcanoes, but that's because Jupiter's gravitational field is literally mushing up that little pizza ball. Quaoar does not have such a luxury, and I very much doubt the Sun can be counted on for melting its surface enough at that distance to encourage icy volcanic activity.

    So, if this stuff is confirmed - and it still has to be, apparently - then astrophysicists are going to have a hell of a time explaining how a dead ball of ice deep in the freezer of space can be active enough to spout frozen geysers that manage to create a ring in such conditions.

    This is going to be a mind-bender of major proportions.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Ice volcanos beyond Pluto ? a dead ball of ice deep in the freezer of space ... manage to create a ring in such conditions...

      Impact debris.

    2. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Ice volcanos beyond Pluto ?

      It can all be explained by the discovery of a new Element, I call it Chillianium. It's so spicy radioactive, that it can cause eruptions from even the most unexpected places...

    3. Hurn

      Re: Ice volcanos beyond Pluto ?

      Perhaps the "ice" in question is not frozen water, but something (else) which "melts" at a much lower temp?

  7. ScottishYorkshireMan

    Has anyone....

    Told Master Chief?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Has anyone....

      They tried, but like everyone else, he's switched Cortana off.

  8. 45RPM Silver badge

    If the inhabitants of the planet (comma) don’t look like chicken carcasses (semi-colon) and can’t help us with our punctuation (full stop) then I’m going to be very disappointed (exclamation mark)

    1. Blofeld's Cat

      Er ...

      I suspect "(full stop)" should be "(comma)".

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: Er ...

        Can we be sure its not a ring of Smegging garbage pods?

        Icon - Cloister the Stupid making his glorious return!

    2. Lil Endian Silver badge


      Obviously Quaoar is the Quagaars' home planet! (Maybe it should be Quaoaar - double 'A'!)

      I wonder if Weywot looks like Felicity Kendal's bottom...

      [Icon: my face flying around Weywot a couple of times.]

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    is that a mote I see?

    1. ChoHag Silver badge

      Re: Picture

      Pull the gripping one.

  10. Roger Kynaston Silver badge


    He has settled down now he doesn't play with the Enterprise and has got engaged.

  11. Timo Karjalainen

    We already know

    No need to speculate, there is already an explanation in Nature:

    "Our local collisional simulations show that elastic collisions, based on laboratory experiments [8], can maintain a ring far away from the body. Moreover, Quaoar’s ring orbits close to the 1/3 spin–orbit resonance [9] with Quaoar, a property shared by Chariklo’s [2,10,11] and Haumea’s [3] rings, suggesting that this resonance plays a key role in ring confinement for small bodies."

    1. TVU Silver badge

      Re: We already know

      ^ Exactly this, and if a ring system has only relatively recently been established as a result of collision of some sort then it will give the appearance of persistence irrespective of any long term spin-orbit resonance that will preserve the phenomenon.

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Trouble ahead

    It seems Quaoar failed to read the rules of material acquisition and is now being investigated by the Supreme Being

    1. Solo Owl

      Re: Trouble ahead

      Quaoar *is* a creation god, q.v. Wikipedia.

  14. Kev99 Silver badge

    The article mentioned in Nature posted by Timo Karjalainen makes sense. Perhaps part of the reason is the ring composition is of such small debris the Roche limit is farther than for Saturn?

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      The Roche limit depends on mass (gravity), so for this to work Quaoar would need to have 7 times the mass of a rocky planet of the same size.

      - It is made out of solid gold!...

      1. Anon

        Or, a slight modification for a proper light bulb-moment,

        - It is made out of solid tungsten!...

      2. Lil Endian Silver badge

        My Occam's Razor first thought was Quaoar and, necessarily Weywot, are super-massive. I'm more than happy to go with Timo's suggestion though, as I'm not going to do the mass-maths right now. (Okay, okay! My applied maths is really rusty, and I have an appointment next week!)

        @Anon: that's a really bright idea!

        [Icon: the closest I can get to me scratching my head.]

  15. old_IT_guy

    continuous injection of momentum from the cryovolcanic ejecta might be involved

    1. ravenviz Silver badge

      Agree, the explanation may indeed be dynamic.

  16. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    Free two-light-day shippping

    From the headline, I thought astronomers had discovered the first interstellar Ring security camera network.

  17. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Its ring system is intact at orbits at a distance over seven times the dwarf planet's radius

    That means the WiFi isn't going to work.

    I would ask for a refund.

  18. Tron Bronze badge


    Why are astronomers giving unpronounceable names to things, when they could use simple to pronounce names? That's the job of doctors (or the military when the doctors are on strike).

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Quaoaeaiar.

      I know you're joking, but in case you were wondering, the Dwarf Planet is named for the Diety of a group of Native American people who live in Southern California called the Takic.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Quaoaeaiar.

        That doesn't make it any less unpronounceable...

    2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

      Re: Quaoaeaiar.

      It's because there are only so many combinations of legible words you can make with 26 letters, and most of the good ones are taken.

      1. Greg 38

        Re: Quaoaeaiar.

        The extraordinarily high number of vowels can only be quenched by an unusually large number of consonants. Any volunteers here from Wales to give a hand?

        1. Lil Endian Silver badge

          Re: Quaoaeaiar.

          You shouldn't play Street Countdown. It can get very cold.

    3. Lil Endian Silver badge

      Re: Quaoaeaiar.

      If you don't add the random extra vowels Quaoar is only three syllables, and even I can handle that. Including "aeaia" makes me want to sing about Old MacDonald's Farm!

  19. chivo243 Silver badge

    oh, a ring! not a Ring.

    I thought to myself, I'm thinking? How small is this planet if a doorbell can surround it?

  20. steelpillow Silver badge

    Eliminating the obvious?

    So, the Sun is an astronomical body with a large ring, known as the asteroid belt, beyond its Roche limit.

    "Ah," you say, "but that's because Jupiter."

    The obvious conclusion is that Quaoar has a relatively large moon doing the same thing to its ring, we just ain't spotted it yet on account of not looking at the right time and place for stellar occultations.

    Or am I missing something?

    1. Lil Endian Silver badge

      Re: Eliminating the obvious?

      Make that a relatively massive moon and I'm with you. I'm sure it could be proven theoretically, but I suspect the numbers would show that that's not what's happening around Quaoar. As I said above though, it'd take me a while to revise my maths for the mechanics[1], and there'd need to be a lot of assumptions.

      [1] I'm sure there are those here way more on the ball than I am.

  21. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge


    the only thing we can do is guess according to what the math tells us should be, it's not surprising that a lot of astronomical theories are going to be proven wrong. If we really want to figure this stuff out, we need to sideline the magnifying glasses and divert the money into developing FTL spacecraft. We'll learn a lot more by actually going to these places and looking than we will by looking for tiny little wobbles from lightyears away.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm as fascinated by this stuff as the next geek, but what we're doing right now is trying to figure out someone's spaghetti recipe by watching their kitchen window from 20 miles away. It would be better if we were sitting on a stool in the kitchen.

  22. Lil Endian Silver badge

    Out of Date

    I'm wondering whether the data's out of date, perhaps it's just a token ring.

  23. teebie

    "Astronomers are now puzzled at how such a ring system can survive so far from its parent planet."

    At this point, how do we know that it does survive for an appreciable length of time? Maybe it has only been around for a few decades, and will be gone in a few decades more.

    1. BackToTheFuture

      "Astronomers are now puzzled at how such a ring system can survive so far from its parent planet."

      Have these young astronomers never heard of the Colgate Ring of Confidence? It's not rocket science.

  24. Sceptic Tank Silver badge

    Ring of ice. Ring of ice. Round your Quaoar

    Well, let me be the first to admit that I did not believe that I would live to see the day that a ring of dust would be discovered around a piece of crap floating way out there. This discovery will undoubtedly alter the fabric our society profoundly. (Still trying to figure out why astrophysics is a career path and not a hobby). NASA declined to mention that they are investigating the rings for signs of intelligent life.

    Anyway, there is one inner planet with its own ring system: Earth, surrounded by junk.

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: Still trying to figure out why astrophysics is a career path and not a hobby

      It can be proved that making observations outside of earth's atmosphere can alter the fabric of our society. Take, for example, the discovery of helium. I don't think this has been nobbled by AI-powered search engines... yet. However...

      1. Lil Endian Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Still trying to figure out why astrophysics is a career path and not a hobby

        Fantastic link, thanks Ken.

        (And point well made.)

    2. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Ring of ice. Ring of ice. Round your Quaoar

      Spinoffs from space and astronomical research are varied and plentiful, take the JWST; in order to make the mirrors sufficiently accurate they needed to develop an incredibly accurate non-contact way to measure curved surfaces. That technology is now being used to make laser eye surgery safer and more precise.

      As for astronomy and astrophysics, pushing back how far we can track the evolution of the universe improves our understanding of the origin of it all which has ramifications at the other end of the scale in the quantum world. On a species selfish perspective astronomy is vital if we don't want to go the way of the dinosaurs. On top of that there are some really pretty structures in space, nice to get the glorious images NASA get from JWST & HST.

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