Ring Around the Dwarf Planet Says ‘I’m Young’
You can’t declare something old just because your worldview requires it to be old.
New Scientist declared in bold print, “Distant dwarf planet near Pluto has a ring that no one expected.” Reporter Ken Croswell, however, never explains why it was unexpected to find a prominent ring around the dwarf planet Haumea, located about 2 billion miles beyond the orbit of Pluto. When surprised by something that shouldn’t last for billions of years around a body smaller than Pluto, one strategy astronomers employ is to look excited:
- “This is a landmark discovery,” says Alan Stern at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “It’s very exciting.”
- “It was really an amazing surprise,” says Santos-Sanz.
- “This is fabulous. It’s a really great discovery,” says William McKinnon at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.
The smiles distract from the blushing at having discovered something that “no one expected” – why? because delicate things like rings cannot last for billions of years. Nature News & Views explains why even Saturn’s rings remain an age-old problem:
Saturn’s are the most studied of all rings, and yet they remain enigmatic. Data from the Cassini spacecraft revealed that gravitational interactions between the planet’s rings and moons shepherd the ring material, and that one of the rings is produced entirely from matter that spews from the moon Enceladus. However, the formation mechanisms responsible for the other rings remain uncertain — possibilities include co-formation with the planet, break-up of a captured body or satellite and collisions between the planet and other bodies.
A key factor in differentiating between these possibilities is the age of Saturn’s rings, but this is difficult to determine. The timescale for creating such massive rings, and the lack of dust, suggest an age of billions of years. However, the rings’ brightness, which is expected to lessen over time, points to a relatively young age of 150 million years. It is even possible that some parts of the rings are old but others are young.
Composite explanations are generally unsatisfying in science. Why are you fat? Well, it might be your genes, or your diet, or your lack of self-control. Or it might just be normal for your ethnicity. Well, which is it? Are Saturn’s rings young, old, or ‘yold‘? If Saturn’s rings remain “enigmatic” after centuries of study, how much more surprising is it to find a little world with far less gravity holding on to a ring of particles! Sound the bugles: it must have been an impact! Maybe a finely-tuned impact hit Haumea just right to send rocks out and yet keep them within the dwarf planet’s sphere of gravitational influence. Read between the lines when Nature says,
With the authors’ discovery of a ring around a small body in the outer Solar System, which is in a completely different environment from the rings around the giant planets, the fundamental questions of how planetary rings form and evolve have become even more intriguing.
The article proceeds to disclose that two Centaurs one tenth the diameter of Haumea also have rings (Centaurs are asteroids orbiting between Jupiter and Neptune). The astronomers’ paper in the same issue of Nature talks about those cases, the Centaurs named Chariklo and Chiron, which unexpectedly were found to have rings. Another strategy for dealing with the unexpected is to postulate that the unexpected is the New Normal:
These discoveries directed our attention to Centaurs and phenomenology related to them to explain our unexpected findings. 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, such as rings being possibly common also in the trans-Neptunian region from which Centaurs are delivered, and opens the door to new avenues of research.
Does one normally give new research to folks who goofed in their expectations? Other facts militating against old ages include Haumea’s rapid rotation and the presence of an outer moon that should disrupt delicate ring particles over long ages. The authors of the paper do not attempt to age-date the ring or explain its formation. The summary article, however, repeats the ‘New Normal’ talking point:
Centaurs are thought [by whom?] to have originally been located farther out in the Solar System, and then gradually moved inward to their current orbits. Because these orbits are intertwined with those of the giant planets, they are gravitationally unstable and last for only millions of years. Numerical simulations have counter-intuitively demonstrated that rings around a Centaur are likely to survive the transition from the outer Solar System, including close encounters with the giant planets. The authors’ discovery prompts speculation that ring systems in the outer Solar System are not uncommon, and that we can anticipate more discoveries in this region.
That’s a third strategy to avoid shame: look forward to more surprises. That makes being wrong part of the job.
What happened to accountability? Once planetary scientists accepted the A.S.S. (age of the solar system, assumed to be 4.5 billion years) as their consensus (the Law of the Misdeeds and Perversions, which cannot be altered), they expected everything to look old. Take note that 150 million years represents three percent of the A.S.S. That leaves 97% of the A.S.S. unexplained and contrary to observations.
If this were the only case of a young-looking object, it might be excusable as a rare anomaly. For years, though, we have reported young-looking phenomena at just about every planet and class of object in the solar system: a magnetic field at little Mercury, sudden resurfacing at Venus, Io’s volcanoes, the decay of Earth’s magnetic field, small moons about to crash into Mars, Saturn’s rings, the Phoebe Ring, the geysers of Enceladus, Titan’s atmosphere and lack of ethane oceans, Miranda’s surface, Triton’s activity, Pluto’s geology, and much more (search on Solar System or Dating Methods in our topical categories for lots of evidence). Their origin models are forever wrong about accretion, disk instabilities, migrations and finely-tuned impacts. It’s hard to think of any job whose ‘experts’ have been more consistently wrong about the ages of things than the moyboys of planetary science (well, maybe cosmologists, too). The only thing they are good at is distracting attention from their mistakes with tactics like hydrobioscopy and the other three strategies mentioned above (acting excited, turning the unexpected into the New Normal, and making surprises part of the job). They are outstanding at math and jargon, and know their physics. Individually they can be pleasant, but they act like members of a tight-knit club of experts who all agree that the solar system is old. They attend conferences where nobody dares stray too far out of line. All must wear D-Merit Badges to be tolerated. Non-moyboys are forbidden, even when the evidence is on their side.* The reason: King Charlie needs those billions of years. Moyboy planetary scientists play a crucial role as enablers of his cult.
*Don’t believe this? Imagine one of them saying, “You know, guys, it appears that Saturn is young, and maybe all the planets are a lot younger than we thought.”