Ceres- The Closest Dwarf Planet

Image Credit: NASA

A Dwarf planet is a large body orbiting the sun and that has failed to clear its surroundings.  Piazzi discovered Ceres on 1 January 1801. Ceres was discovered on New Year’s Day by Giuseppe Piazzi. Piazzi was actually looking for a star, but he found Dwarf Planet Ceres. He first thought that it’s a comet. Piazzi saw Ceres for 24 times and announced his discovery on 24 January 1801 only to his two fellow astronomers. His discovery of Ceres was published in September 1801. Ceres was named after the Roman goddess of corn and harvests. Ceres was at that time classified as a planet. Later on, many smaller bodies were found spread between Mars and Jupiter and this region between Mars and Jupiter is known as the Asteroid Belt. Astronomers at that time after the discovery of the asteroid belt demoted Ceres to the status of Asteroid. Ceres was promoted to Dwarf Planet status in 2006. Ceres was not fully promoted to the status of the planet because its gravitational field was not strong enough to clear its surroundings.

Ceres is the closest Dwarf planet to earth. It contains 32% of the Asteroid Belt’s total mass. Diameter of Ceres is 950km. Ceres completes one rotation around its own axis in 9hours, 4mins. Orbital period of Ceres is about 4.6 years. Ceres is 2.7 times away from the sun as compared to earth or in other words its distance from sun is about 2.7AU. Orbital speed of Ceres is 17.822km/s. Density of Ceres is 2.09 grams per cubic centimeter, which proves that  approximately a quarter of its weight is water or in other words Ceres has more water than Earth. The Escape velocity of Ceres is 0.51km/s.
Ceres was considered a planet for more than 50 years after its discovery. The existence of a planet between Mars and Jupiter was theorized in 1766 based on the large gap between Mars and Jupiter. After defining what a planet is, Ceres was categorized as a Dwarf Planet in 2006. Ceres is also the only Dwarf Planet is the Asteroid Belt.

Surface of Ceres is covered in a thin layer of rocky dust made of a layer of dirty water ice possible of containing minerals like Iron Oxide or clay. Under this layer there is a mantle which may comprise of an ocean of liquid water and some scientists believe that in this ocean of water, there may have a possibility to support primitive life forms or bacteria. The Thickness of this ocean is believed to be 100km. Most of the diameter of Ceres is composed of a large hard core in its center. Ceres is also believed to have a thin atmosphere consisting of water vapors. Ceres has no moon. Cere is too distant and too low in magnitude to be visible unaided, but it can be seen with binoculars. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is destined to arrive and explore Ceres and other Asteroid Belt objects in 2015.

Recently photos from Herschel space observatory have made the perfect detection of exposure of water vapor on dwarf planet Ceres. So the NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is on its way to Ceres and it sure will help us discovering the secrets of this Dwarf planet. 

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