Haumea—one of the four known trans-Neptunian dwarf planets—is a very elongated and rapidly rotating body1,2,3. In contrast to other dwarf planets4,5,6, its size, shape, albedo and density are not well constrained. The Centaur Chariklo was the first body other than a giant planet known to have a ring system7, and the Centaur Chiron was later found to possess something similar to Chariklo’s rings8,9. Here we report observations from multiple Earth-based observatories of Haumea passing in front of a distant star (a multi-chord stellar occultation). Secondary events observed around the main body of Haumea are consistent with the presence of a ring with an opacity of 0.5, width of 70 kilometres and radius of about 2,287 kilometres. The ring is coplanar with both Haumea’s equator and the orbit of its satellite Hi’iaka. The radius of the ring places it close to the 3:1 mean-motion resonance with Haumea’s spin period—that is, Haumea rotates three times on its axis in the time that a ring particle completes one revolution. The occultation by the main body provides an instantaneous elliptical projected shape with axes of about 1,704 kilometres and 1,138 kilometres. Combined with rotational light curves, the occultation constrains the three-dimensional orientation of Haumea and its triaxial shape, which is inconsistent with a homogeneous body in hydrostatic equilibrium. Haumea’s largest axis is at least 2,322 kilometres, larger than previously thought, implying an upper limit for its density of 1,885 kilograms per cubic metre and a geometric albedo of 0.51, both smaller than previous estimates1,10,11. In addition, this estimate of the density of Haumea is closer to that of Pluto than are previous estimates, in line with expectations. No global nitrogen- or methane-dominated atmosphere was detected.
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These results were based on observations made with the 2-m telescope at Wendelstein Observatory, which is operated by the Universitäts-Sternwarte München, the 1.8-m telescope at Asiago Observatory, operated by Padova Observatory, a member of the National Institute for Astrophysics, the 1.3-m telescope at Skalnate Pleso Observatory, operated by the Astronomical Institute of the Slovak Academy of Science, the 1-m telescope at Konkoly observatory, operated by Astrophysical Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the 0.65-m telescope at Ondrejov Observatory, operated by the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the 1.5-m telescope at Sierra Nevada Observatory, operated by the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia-CSIC, the 1.23-m telescope at Calar Alto Observatory, jointly operated by the Max Planck Institute für Astronomie and the IAA-CSIC, the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory 2-m Liverpool telescope, operated by the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University, the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory 2.5-m NOT telescope, operated by the Nordic Optical Telescope Scientific Association, the 1-m telescope at Pic du Midi Observatory, operated by the Observatoire Midi Pyrénées, and the La Hita 0.77-m telescope, which is jointly operated by Astrohita and the IAA-CSIC. J.L.O. acknowledges funding from Spanish and Andalusian grants MINECO AYA-2014-56637-C2-1-P and J. A. 2012-FQM1776 as well as FEDER funds. Part of the research leading to these results received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, under grant agreement no. 687378. B.S. acknowledges support from the French grants ‘Beyond Neptune’ ANR-08-BLAN-0177 and ‘Beyond Neptune II’ ANR-11-IS56-0002. Part of the research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Community’s H2020 (2014-2020/ERC grant agreement no. 669416 ‘Lucky Star’). A.P. and R.S. have been supported by the grant LP2012-31 of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. All of the Hungarian contributors acknowledge the partial support from K-125015 grant of the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (NKFIH). G.B.-R., F.B.-R., F.L.R., R.V.-M., J.I.B.C., M.A., A.R.G.-J. and B.E.M. acknowledge support from CAPES, CNPq and FAPERJ. J.C.G. acknowledges funding from AYA2015-63939-C2-2-P and from the Generalitat Valenciana PROMETEOII/2014/057. K.H. and P.P. were supported by the project RVO:67985815. The Astronomical Observatory of the Autonomous Region of the Aosta Valley acknowledges a Shoemaker NEO Grant 2013 from The Planetary Society. We acknowledge funds from a 2016 ‘Research and Education’ grant from Fondazione CRT. We also acknowledge the Slovakian project ITMS no. 26220120029.
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Astrophysics and Space Science (2017)