Haumea ring
Dwarf planet Haumea was first discovered in 2003 - Artist's impression IAA-CSIC/UHU

Scientists have discovered a massive ring around Haumea, a bizarrely-shaped dwarf planet located in the outer reaches of our solar system.

The discovery, which is a first in the category of dwarf planets, was made after a joint team of astronomers from 10 labs used 12 different telescopes across Europe to observe Haumea as it came in front of a star named URAT1 533–182543 in January.

The idea was to spot the planet from different angles in order to get a better glimpse of its shape, size and other features.

Haumea's size is roughly similar to Pluto's and it takes about 285 Earth years to orbit the Sun with rapid rotation, spinning once in every four hours. The mini-planet was discovered in 2003 and has got quite a bit of attention from astronomers because of its unique elongated shape, that looks a lot like a rugby ball.

The International Astronomical Union recognised Haumea as a dwarf planet, alongside Pluto, Ceres, Eris and Makemake in 2008.

According to findings which were published in the journal Nature, this is the first glimpse of Haumea's ring system, which has an approximate width of 70km and a radius of about 2,287km.

"There are several possible explanations for the formation of the ring. For example, it could have originated after a collision with another object, or the release of some of the surface material due to the rapid rotation of Haumea," says astronomer Jose Luis Ortiz, who led the study.

Their observations also found that the particles that make up the ring complete one revolution around Haumea in about the same amount of time it took the planet to rotate three times.

Apart from the ring system, the researchers even got a good look at the unusual elongated ellipsoid shape of the dwarf planet, with axes of about 2,322km by 1,704km by 1,138km, and no nitrogen or methane-dominated atmosphere.

Before this, scientists identified two rings around a very small celestial object called Chariklo in the Centaurs region – the area of small celestial bodies between Neptune and Jupiter. Another object in the same region, Chiron, was also spotted with potential signs of rings, but they were less clear in comparison to Chariklo.

"The discovery of a ring around Haumea – a much more distant body, in a completely different dynamical class, much larger than Chariklo and Chiron, with satellites and with a very elongated triaxial shape – has numerous implications," authors of the study noted. "The rings are possibly common also in the trans-Neptunian region from which Centaurs are delivered, and opens the door to new avenues of research."

Scientists believe there are hundreds of undiscovered planets like Haumea across our solar system.