Asteroid Ceres

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On Jan. 1, 1801, the largest asteroid and the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system, Ceres, was discovered by Giueseppe Piazzi in Sicily, an Italian Catholic priest and mathematician.  Ceres was named after the Roman Goddess of growing plants and motherly love.

“The light was a little faint, and of the colour of Jupiter, but similar to many others which generally are reckoned of the eighth magnitude,” wrote Piazzi in his journal.  “Therefore I had no doubt of its being any other than a fixed star.”

Scientists explain that Ceres formed approximately 4.57 billion years ago in the asteroid belt.  It is a surviving protoplanet, which is a planetary embryo.

Utilizing the Titius-Bode Law that projects the position of planets utilizing mathematical equation of their Sun’s distance, astronomers conclude that Ceres is approximately 600 miles (950 km) in diameter and takes up one third of mass (9.5 x 10 to the power of 20 kg) of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  Scientists compare Ceres to the size of the state of Texas.

The surface is considerably warm and the high temperature is thought to be about -38 degrees Celsius (235 k).  Furthermore, its surface is composed of water ice, carbonates and clays.  Under its surface, scientists argue that it could contain an ocean of liquid water.

Although there are no signs of extraterrestrial life, some believe there could be evidence of it in the oceans of liquid water.  In 2005, it was reported that astronomers hypothesized that Ceres could have more fresh water than Earth.

Ceres revolves around the sun in 1,679.82 days (4.60 years) and maintains a rotational period of 9.08 hours.  The magnitude of Ceres is thought to be between six and nine.  When it is at its brightest, it can be viewed by the naked eye, unless it is cloudy on Earth.

Since it has not been around for a long time, and it is easy to view by amateur astronomers, Ceres has generated quite a bit of intrigue by many.

In July, NASA’s Dawn space probe became the first craft to enter the orbit around an object between Jupiter and Mars.  After four years in space and traveling 1.7 billion miles (188 million km), Dawn captured images of the Vesta asteroid.  Following its one-year orbit around Vesta, it will then travel to Ceres, with an estimated arrival date of February 2015.

More about this author: Andrew Moran

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