Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It is also the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system. Earlier it was known as an asteroid but because of its bigger size and different profile, it was classified as a planer by the scientists in 2006. Ceres is named for the Roman goddess of corn and harvests. The word cereal comes from the same name.
Interesting Ceres Facts
- Ceres is the only dwarf planet that lies within the orbit of the planet Neptune.
- It is the largest object in the entire asteroid belt.
- It has a diameter of nearly 945 km.
- It is 415 million kilometers away from the sun.
- It is the 33rd largest object in the solar system.
- It has been named after the Roman goddess of agriculture.
- It was the first asteroid to be discovered.
- It is the only one out of the five dwarf planets to be lying within the orbit of the planet Neptune.
- It has an axial tilt of 4°.
- It takes 4.6 earth years to complete one orbit around the sun.
- It is not known to have any moon.
- It is not having any rings.
- Ceres is the first-ever dwarf planet to be visited by a man-made spacecraft.
- It has never been visited by any human being.
- It has only been visited by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft.
- It is the first dwarf planet ever to be visited by human-made spacecraft.
- It has been mentioned in a lot of books, TV shows, films, and even video games.
A dwarf planet is a celestial body or object that falls into the category of neither planets nor natural satellites. There are three main requirements for an object to be considered as a planet. First thing is that it must be orbiting the sun directly. Second, it should have considerable mass. Lastly, it must have cleared the space around it that is they must be gravitationally influential.
Usually, any celestial body that does not meet one of these requirements is considered a dwarf planet. In general dwarf planets do not need the third requirement to be considered as a planet. The term ‘dwarf planet’ was adopted in the year 2006 when astronomical objects were discovered beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune.
According to the international aeronautical unit (IAU), there are five recognized dwarf planets in the solar system. They are Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. In 2008, NASA has acknowledged five dwarf planets in the solar system. Out of the five ceres is the only dwarf planet that lies within the orbit of Neptune. You will know more about dwarf planets as you continue reading.
Ceres caused a lot of debate among scientists about how it should be categorized. Ceres is the only dwarf planet in the asteroid belt. It was considered a planet for many years until it was officially accepted as a dwarf planet. Pluto lies beyond Neptune. Haumea and Makemake were both discovered in 2008.
Ceres is actually an asteroid. Asteroids are celestial bodies that are considered as minor planets. There are usually found in the inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. This region of the asteroid is called the asteroid belt. Some asteroids that are relatively larger in size are also classified as planetoids.
There exist millions of asteroids in the solar system out of which 1,000 are known to us. The size of the asteroid can vary greatly. They can be as large as almost 1000 km in diameter or even as small as a pebble.
Scientists had long noticed that there was a huge gap between the planets of Mars and Jupiter and hence predicted that there had to be a planet that lied within the orbits of the two. The presence of such a planet was first suggested in 1772 by Johann Elert Bode. The asteroid Ceres was discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi on the 1st January 1801.
It was the first asteroid to ever be discovered. Ceres was named after a figure from Roman mythology. Ceres was the name of the Roman goddess of agriculture. Initially, it was thought that ceres was an undiscovered planet that orbits around the sun and it lied between the orbits of the planets of Mars and Jupiter. It is closer to the orbit of the planet mars than the orbit of the planet Jupiter.
The formation of the dwarf planet is closely linked to the formation of asteroids in general. The most widely accepted theory about the origin of the asteroid belt is that it was formed as a result of the explosion of a planet that existed between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. This asteroid and hence fragments of the same planet.
A planet may have exploded internally or because of the impact of a large celestial body. This theory also has contradictions. Firstly, a tremendous amount of energy would be required to destroy a planet. Secondly, all the asteroids have a variety of chemical differences between them. Hence it is doubtful that they all originated from the same planet. Also, the total mass of the asteroid belt is not equal to the mass of a planet.
Another theory that predicts the origin of the asteroid belt says that it was created by the fragments of many planets from the past instead of just one. Ceres was formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago along with the formation of the entire solar system.
Ceres is almost perfect spheroid unlike most of the bodies is in the asteroid belt which are elongated or irregular in shape. Ceres cannot be seen from the earth directly by the naked eye as it is considered to be too dim to be seen by a human being directly.
However, on a clear night with great visibility and less pollution, the dwarf planet can be seen by a person who has a vision of 20/20. Special equipment called advanced telescopes is required to observe ceres from the surface of the earth which has a magnitude of + 6.7. It has a diameter of about 945 km. This makes it the 33rd largest object in the entire solar system.
Ceres is the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt. So much so that has been considered as one of the five dwarf planets of the solar system. It is the smallest dwarf planet in the solar system. It is the only known dwarf planet that lies within the orbit of Neptune. This means that it is the closest dwarf planet to the sun. It has a diameter of close to 945 kilometers. The asteroid/ dwarf planet has an axial tilt of nearly 4°.
Ceres is believed to contain fresh water on its surface more than the total fresh water on the entire planet earth. Ceres has a relatively warm surface temperature as compared to other celestial bodies. It can become as warm as -38 °C or -36 °C.
Ceres comprises of nearly one-third the total mass of the entire asteroid belt. Most of the composition of the dwarf planet is similar to c type or carbonaceous asteroids. C-type asteroids are very rich in carbon content.
Most of them are present in the outer regions of the asteroid belt and they comprise of nearly 75% of the total asteroids known or visible to us. They have a reddish appearance as compared to the other types of asteroids. They are mainly composed of carbon, rocks and some other minerals. Some minerals present on these asteroids may also contain water.
Ceres is mainly made up of rock and ice. It is believed to have a rocky core. Above this rocky core, it may have an icy mantle. Some scientists also think that there is or there may be an ocean of liquid water present beneath the surface of the dwarf planet.
Mostly surface of the dwarf planet is composed of graphite, sulphur and sulphur dioxide. The internal structure of the dwarf planet is believed to have a core consisting of rock. This core is surrounded by a mantel that is full of icy water or water ice and is approximately 100 km thick. The interior part of the dwarf planet consists of volatile substances.
Orbit & Rotation
It is close to 415 million kilometers or 2.7 astronomical units away from the sun and it has an orbital period of about 4.6 years on earth. It has a rotational period of nearly 9 hours and 4 minutes on earth. It can hardly ever be seen from the earth with the naked and even when it is visible, it is very dim as it is small in size.
Not much is known about the atmosphere of the dwarf planet, but it is assumed to be thin and composed of water vapors which will most likely sublime if it is exposed to solar radiation.
Ceres became the first dwarf planet ever to be visited by human-made spacecraft when NASA’s robotic spacecraft called Dawn which was sent to orbit the asteroid on the 6th of March 2015. Ceres has never been visited by humans and as mentioned before has only been visited by one spacecraft which is dawn by NASA.
Before the Dawn spacecraft was launched, not much was known about the dwarf planet. The spacecraft helped to determine that the dwarf planet had a cratered surface. This may be due to the great number of geographical processes that the dwarf planet has undergone.
Future missions to Ceres have been planned and it is even possible that spacecrafts going to planets beyond the orbit of the dwarf planet may conduct flybys of it. More missions are being planned but none of them are under progress currently.
Potential for Life in Ceres
Ceres is not discussed as much as Mars or some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn when it comes to the potential for life. However, some scientists do believe that life could have existed on the dwarf planet in the past. In fact, it is one of the few bodies of the solar system where the potential of sustaining life is the highest.
This could be because of its distance from the sun which is not that large in number and also the presence of liquid water on its surface which is necessary for the survival of living things. It is also one of the only dwarf planets where the possibility of finding life is being considered at the very least and future missions to the dwarf planet will provide us with more information about the same. Some microorganisms may have come to the earth from ceres.
Dwarf planets have not been known to mankind for a long time as compared to the other planets of the solar system. This is because of the fact that most of the dwarf planets are very small in size and are at a great distance from the sun. Most of them cannot be seen by the naked eye and require the use of an advanced telescope.
Ceres in Pop Culture
Ceres, a dwarf planet has found a place in popular culture. Dwarf planets create curiosity in the minds of writers and artists. Hence, they have been mentioned in a lot of books, TV shows, films, and even video games.
- 1772: Johann Elert Bode suggests the existence of a planet between Mars and Jupiter
- 1801: Discovery of Ceres is announced
- 2007: Spacecraft ‘Dawn’ is launched by NASA
- 2015: Dawn arrives at Ceres
- Present: Scientists continue their attempts to further explore the dwarf planet