Scientists are interested in the Centaur object 2060 Chiron, a small planet with an odd path that goes from Saturn to Uranus. Its changing disk of dust that looks like rings has caught their attention. Chiron is 218 kilometers wide and sometimes has cometary explosions, but no ship has ever been there.
In 2011, a star occultation showed a double-ring system of dust, which set off the puzzle. New measurements, though, led by scientist Amanda Sickafoose and her team at the South African Astronomical Observatory, tell a different story. During an occultation on November 28, 2018, they saw dips in starlight at different distances from the center of Chiron, which suggests that its structure is complex and changing.
Scientists were confused by a third dip on one side that didn’t match the expected two sets of identical dips. This made the idea of a stable ring system seem less likely. The next occultation, which was seen in Egypt in December 2022, was even more surprising. The stuff around Chiron had changed again, creating three even structures on either side that looked like a 580-kilometer-wide disk.
No one knows where this changing matter came from or what it’s made of, which makes people wonder if it has anything to do with Chiron’s cometary attacks in 2021. Another Centaur, 10199 Chariklo, had rings before, but what was found around Chiron makes it hard to say what Chariklo’s structures are.
The study, which came out in The Planetary Science Journal on November 28, 2022, pushes astronomers and makes plans for more studies to find out more about these changing heavenly rings.