In the early morning of Friday (March 6), NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will reach Ceres, making it the first spacecraft ever to orbit an icy dwarf planet.
Ceres is the biggest object located in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the closest small planet is Earth. Dawn will offer many details about Ceres and its composition and evolution.
While Dawn’s research will be the first deep study of Ceres Astronomers, I have already learned about the small planet using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Europe’s Herschel Space Observatory, and other instruments. Here are seven odd pieces of information about Ceres.
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Facts About Ceres
1. The first known asteroid was discovered.
Ceres began to be discovered on January 1 January 1801, by Sicilian Astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi. The asteroid was discovered after Piazzi was able to verify mathematical predictions (later discovered to be wrong) that it was a planet in the area between Mars in the constellation of Jupiter.
At the time, Ceres was thought to be a planet, but when more asteroid belt members emerged, Ceres was demoted to an asteroid. The status of Ceres changed in 2006 when it was elevated to dwarf planet, an asteroid classification that it shares with Pluto that was then relegated from a full-fledged planet the same year, in a decision that is still controversial.
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2. It was named in honor of the Roman goddess of agriculture, named after the Roman.
Piazzi described his discovery as Ceres in honor of Ceres, the Roman goddess of corn and harvests. Also, she was believed to be the goddess of patronage in Sicily, as per the Encyclopedia Britannica. In the year 1803, the element cerium was given the name of the planet that was dwarfed. According to the Encyclopedia of Science, cerium is among the richest rare-earth metals, and (among other instances) it can be located as a fission byproduct of plutonium, thorium, and Uranium.
3. It’s got mysterious bright spots.
As Dawn flew toward the planet’s dwarf in the latter part of 2014 and early 2015, astronomers discovered two surprising bright spots in an abyssal Crater’s 19th degree of north-south latitude on Ceres. There’s no evidence of no mounds or features that are close to the spots, suggesting that they’re not volcanic in their origins.
The bright spots suggest the presence of a highly reflective substance, most likely salts or water, scientists say. Dawn team members hope that the spacecraft will help solve the mystery.
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4. Ceres could have an air-vapor plume.
The Herschel Space Observatory recently spotted water vapor emitted directly from Ceres. As scientists have suggested, the plumes emanate from two places (including close to the area where those white spots have been observed) and result from icy volcanoes.
The vapor may have sublimated away following a meteorite collision that exposed subsurface ice to space. The origin of the plume is an unanswered question for Dawn to explore.
5. Ceres may harbor a subsurface ocean.
Some scientists believe that water-vapor geysers could hint at subsurface oceans on Ceres that could sustain the current way of life.
Icy moons in the solar system’s outer space, such as Jovian satellite Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, have underwater oceans that are believed to be kept liquid by the tidal force generated by the gravitational pull of nearby moons and their enormous host planets. Ceres does not have these forces, but it may be able to hold some radioactive heat that is derived from the elements in its interior.
6. It’s all-round
As opposed to other members of a belt of asteroids, Ceres is round because it’s big enough for gravity to shape it into an oblong. (Ceres is approximately 590 miles or 950 km broad.) Scientists believe that circular bodies possess distinct interiors, meaning that there are various zones. Ceres is likely to have an icy core, a rocky core, an icy mantle, some subsurface liquid water, and a super-dusty upper layer.
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7. It could also be a mood.
Ceres is a long way from the sun. However, scientists believe its surface temperatures could reach 37°F (minus 38 degrees Celsius). If there’s any water ice on this point, it will rapidly sublimate, changing directly into gas and creating atmospheric conditions around this dwarf planet. There are just a few glimpses of possible sublimation up to now. Dawn will be watching for more.