Washington: In an interesting finding, researchers have detected features around minor planet Chiron that may signal rings, jets, or a shell of dust.
So far there were only five bodies in our solar system that are known to bear rings. After planet Saturn, to a lesser extent, rings of gas and dust also encircle Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.
The fifth member of this haloed group is Chariklo, one of a class of minor planets called centaurs: small, rocky bodies that possess qualities of both asteroids and comets.
Scientists only recently detected Chariklo`s ring system -- a surprising finding as it had been thought that centaurs are relatively dormant.
"It`s interesting, because Chiron is a centaur -- part of that middle section of the solar system, between Jupiter and Pluto, where we originally weren`t thinking things would be active, but it`s turning out things are quite active," said Amanda Bosh, a lecturer in Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 2011, the group observed a stellar occultation in which Chiron passed in front of a bright star, briefly blocking its light.
Chiron, discovered in 1977, was the first planetary body categorized as a centaur, after the mythological Greek creature -- a hybrid of man and beast.
Like their mythological counterparts, centaurs are hybrids, embodying traits of both asteroids and comets.
"There`s an aspect of serendipity to these observations," Bosh said.
"We need a certain amount of luck, waiting for Chiron to pass in front of a star that is bright enough. Chiron itself is small enough that the event is very short; if you blink, you might miss it," Bosh added.
The study appeared in the journal Icarus.