Basics: Dwarf Planet Ceres
Main Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Ceres is named after the Roman goddess of corn and harvests. It is a dwarf planet (although not originally). It was discovered long before Pluto (which was discovered in 1930). Ceres was discovered in 1801, and was originally called a planet. In 1850 it changed to asteroid... then again, it was reclassified to dwarf planet in 2006. So it seems to have something of an identity crisis!
It will be found that there is some confusion, and lack of clarity. NASA specifically states it is not an asteroid. You will still find people referring to it as an asteroid though. It is maybe best to just view it as it is: a large astral body in our solar system.
It is the largest object in the asteroid belt. This belt lies between Jupiter and Mars. This belt is filled with a huge number of smaller objects, but Ceres stands out because of its size. In keeping with any form of planet (dwarf or otherwise) it is distinctly spherical shaped.
It has no known moons even though it is in a region where candidates could exist (a moon is literally just a smaller space object orbiting a larger one). It should be remembered though, that space is pretty large. Technically in the future any asteroid/ comet could become a moon if it is captured by a larger object’s gravity.
Surface Features and Structure
Scientists have described Ceres as an embryonic planet. It has been suggested Ceres failed to form into a full planet due to Jupiter’s strong gravitational pull.
Ceres is structurally like the terrestrial planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, but it has a much lower density. It has a layered interior which is similar, but it has been more difficult to define it in comparison. It is expected to have a solid core with a mantle consisting of water ice. One interesting fact is that it is believed to have more water than Earth! It is believed to be constructed of about 25% water.
The crust of the planet is dusty and salty. The type of salt is not the same as the salt people use in food. It would be salts like Magnesium sulphate, and probably others.
Similar to many other terrestrial planets and moons, the surface is littered with craters. The largest crater is about 175 miles diameter. Unusually, these craters seem fairly young, so it would be presumed that the surface is becoming smoothed over in some way. Some theories suggest how this might be happening.
There is a thin atmosphere around the planet. It is believed to contain water vapour. This could occur through a process called “sublimation”. This basically implies solid water becoming gaseous.
Images of Ceres
Surface features named. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA, Published: September 1, 2017
Surface of Ceres. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA, Published: July 31, 2018