Dwarf Planets

What is a Dwarf Planet?

A dwarf planet, as defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity but has not cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite. More explicitly, it has to have sufficient mass to overcome its compressive strength and achieve hydrostatic equilibrium. It should not be confused with a minor planet.

The term dwarf planet was adopted in 2006 as part of a three-way categorization of bodies orbiting the Sun,brought about by an increase in discoveries of trans-Neptunian objects that rivaled Pluto in size, and finally precipitated by the discovery of an even larger object, Eris.This classification states that bodies large enough to have cleared the neighbourhood of their orbit are defined as planets, while those that are not massive enough to be rounded by their own gravity are defined as small solar system bodies. Dwarf planets come in between. The definition officially adopted by the IAU in 2006 has been both praised and criticized, and has been disputed by scientists such as Alan Stern,who worked at the Southwest Research Institute at the time.



The IAU currently recognizes five dwarf planets: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris .However, only two of these bodies, Ceres and Pluto, have been observed in enough detail to demonstrate that they fit the definition. Eris has been accepted as a dwarf planet because it is more massive than Pluto. The IAU subsequently decided that unnamed trans-Neptunian objects with an absolute magnitude less than +1 (and hence a mathematically delimited minimum diameter of 838Â km) are to be named under the assumption that they are dwarf planets. The only two such objects known at the time, Makemake and Haumea, went through this naming procedure and were declared to be dwarf planets.

It is suspected that at least another 40 known objects in the Solar System are dwarf planets, and estimates are that up to 200 dwarf planets may be found when the entire region known as the Kuiper belt is explored, and that the number might be as high as 2,000 when objects scattered outside the Kuiper belt are considered.

The classification of bodies in other planetary systems with the characteristics of dwarf planets has not been addressed, although if they were detectable they would not be considered planets.