Ceres is one of the five known dwarf planets in our solar system. It was discovered in 1801 and is located in the asteroid belt– in fact it is the largest object in there. Ceres is the only Dwarf Planet within the inner solar system. There is currently a NASA spacecraft orbiting the dwarf planet collecting some fascinating data.
- Ceres was discovered on January the 1st 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi who was an Italian astronomer. The dwarf planet was discovered and named by Piazzi in early 1801. Ceres was initially named as a planet, however in the 1850s it was reclassified to an asteroid when many similar, though much smaller, objects were found. Ceres was reclassified again in 2006 to a dwarf planet.
- Ceres does not have any moons.
- Ceres is the closest dwarf planet to the Sun and to Earth. It is located in the asteroid belt between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter. The planet is not particularly bright and so cannot be seen with the naked eye from Earth unless conditions are very dark (and the person looking has incredibly good eyesight!)
- Ceres spins on its axis once every 9 hours and four minutes. This makes a day on Ceres pretty short and almost the same as on Jupiter which is just under 10 hours.
- Ceres is the smallest of the Dwarf planets. It is 950 kilometers (590 miles) in diameter. This is much smaller than Earth which is 12,756 kilometers (7,925 miles).
- The dwarf planet is named after Ceres, the Roman Goddess of agriculture. Piazzi originally named it Cerere Ferdinandea but this was thought to be a difficult name to be used worldwide and the name was shortened to Ceres.
- Ceres can reach a warmish surface temperature of -38 degrees celcius when the Sun is located directly overhead. This is because it is closer to the Sun than the other dwarf planets.
- It is suspected that the surface of Ceres is made of a mixture of water ice, carbonates and clays. Beneath this it has a rocky core and an icy mantle – this is the middle layer of the planet.
- Ceres takes 4.6 earth years to orbit the Sun. It revolves around the Sun in an orbit that travels between Mars and Jupiter.
- Ceres was visited in 2015 by the NASA Dawn spacecraft. This probe was launched on the 27th of September 2007 and visited the protoplanet Vesta in 2015 where it carried out a fourteen month survey. Dawn is the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet and also the first to fully orbit two separate targets.
- Ceres has several white spots. These have been a mystery for a while and the until the current visit from the Dawn Spacecraft has not yet managed to reveal the cause of them. The spacecraft has however revealed a complex and beautiful landscape belonging to Ceres. The surface has many unusual craters – similar to those found on Saturn’s moon Rhea – but that does not fully account for the bright spots. Scientists say they are caused by a highly reflective surface, ice and salt are the most popular theories but other ideas are being considered. Hopefully analysis of data collected by Dawn will tell us more!
- Ceres has a conical mountain. This is now named Ahuna Mons and is a very big mountain that sticks up out of the otherwise flat surface on Ceres. This mountain also has bright lines running down the side of it, similar to those bright spots scattered across the dwarf planet. It is estimated to be 6 kilometers (4 miles) high and 15 kilometers (10 miles) wide at the base.
- Scientists have discovered water on the dwarf planet Ceres. This water is viewed as vapour rising from the surface. These could be erupting from icy volcanoes. This is the first evidence of water to be found within the asteroid belt. We are hoping for Dawn to reveal more information on this. There is a lot of mystery surrounding Ceres at the moment.