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The Dwarf Planet

Ceres is the smallest of the known dwarf planets in our solar system. It is also the only dwarf planet located within the asteroid belt. Ceres was named after the Roman goddess of the harvest, of growing plants, and motherly love. Dwarf planets currently includes Pluto, Eris, and Ceres.. Pluto's demotion from the list of solar system planets grabbed front-page headlines in 2006. But the debate over the qualifications for planethood reaches back to the discovery of Ceres. Ceres was discovered on January 1, 1801 by astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi, a monk in Sicily and the founding director of the Palermo Astronomical Observatory. Ceres was found within a gap between Mars and Jupiter where a planet was expected to reside, based on the spacing of the known planets in the solar system. Nestled between Mars and Jupiter, Ceres was in just the right spot. So astronomers called it a planet. Piazzi initially named the new planet Ceres Ferdinandea after the Roman goddess of the harvest and King Ferdinand IV of Naples and Sicily. Ferdinandea, however, was later dropped.

It takes approximately 4.6 Earth years for Ceres to make one revolution around the Sun. Ceres is located 415 million kilometers from the Sun and revolves around the Sun in an orbit between Mars and Jupiter. In 1802, additional objects were also found to be orbiting in the same area. Sir William Herschel labeled these objects as asteroids, so in 1802 Ceres became known as an asteroid, not a planet. Because Ceres is spherical, it is unlike the majority of the members of the asteroid belt. Its composition is also slightly different than its neighbors in the belt. Its surface is probably covered with a mixture of water ice, carbonates, and clays.


Facts About Ceres

  • Ceres was the first asteroid to be discovered

  • Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt

  • Ceres is the first and only asteroid promoted to dwarf planet status. This occurred in 2006 when the International Astronomical Union voted to add this category as a consequence of reaching a final determination as to the planetary status of Pluto


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