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Published on May 24th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie


The Dwarf Planet Ceres: A Watery Life-Filled World?


The Dwarf Planet Ceres

The Dwarf Planet Ceres. Ever since its discovery, its exact identity was in question. Was it an asteroid? Was it a planet?

Ultimately, it turned out to be neither. This strange dwarf planet, Ceres, has been the subject of endless speculation since we first knew of its existence. In the meantime, it has reluctantly given up some of its secrets but undoubtedly there are more to be revealed.

A Laboured Identity

The Dwarf Planet Ceres was discovered on New Year’s Day, January 1st, 1801, by Giuseppe Piazzi. However, it would take more than two centuries for the mini planet to be given its proper classification as a dwarf planet in 2006.

Ceres qualifies as a planet under two criteria – it is spherical and it orbits a star, our Sun. But the final rule, it must have ‘cleared its neighbourhood around its orbit‘ means that it fails to make the grade.

Dwarf Planet Ceres A Small World

It takes 4.6 years for the dwarf planet to orbit the Sun. Ceres is 2.8 astronomical units from the Sun. Nonetheless, the Dwarf Planet Ceres has just over one-ten-thousandth the mass of the Earth; just four per cent that of the Moon.

At just under 1,000 kilometres (568 miles) in width, Dwarf Planet Ceres is just a small fraction of the size of our home planet. In fact, the escape velocity, the speed you need to be travelling at to escape Ceres’ gravity, is only 500 metres per second. This is nearly 20 times slower than that of the Earth.

Dwarf Planet Ceres, the Moon and Earth

The Hidden Secrets Within

It is what is deep within this dwarf planet that fascinates scientists. Beneath its thin rocky crust lies a mantle of ice-water and some astronomers believe that Ceres harbours liquid water.

Whether it is frozen or not, the Dwarf Planet Ceres has huge quantities of water in its mantle. The amount of water has been calculated to exceed the sum total of all the fresh water on Earth, at 200 million kilometres cubed (124 million cubed miles). Water makes up roughly half the volume of Ceres.

The most burning question that involves the Dwarf Planet Ceres is that of life. Does Ceres have living life? Some scientists believe, with the amount of water on the planet, that Ceres may indeed support some form of living creature. While a few theorists even maintain that the dwarf planet may have contributed to life on our own world.

Whatever the truth, it seems that we should find out if this is the case. As we have never even sent a probe to map and study the dwarf planet in detail, we are not in a position to say.

Dawn Space Probe To Explore Vesta And Ceres, The Dwarf Planet

Even if we do send a landing probe to take samples from Ceres it may be unlikely to find life. Ultimately, we may have to send a team of astronauts with advanced digging equipment to be sure. With the launch of the space probe, Dawn, the journey has already begun.

Highly Recommended Reading

Check out Yellow Magpie’s The Asteroid Belt: Striding Betwixt The Terrestrial And The Jovian and The Solar Maximum: The Years The Earth Is Left Defenceless.

Take a gander at The Solar System And Beyond: A Guide To The Cosmos.

Cosmos is a highly recommended book. It contains large, full-page pictures of the asteroids and writing on the subject by the highly competent author, Giles Sparrow.
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Cosmos from here.
For those who live in Canada, you can obtain: Cosmos here.
For Germany: Cosmos.
For France: Cosmos.

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