1 Ceres

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Template:Minor Planet 1 Ceres ([ˈsi.riz], Latin Cerēs) was the first asteroid to be discovered. It was discovered on January 1, 1801, by Giuseppe Piazzi. With a diameter of about 950 km it is by far the largest and most massive asteroid in the main asteroid belt.


Ceres was originally named Ceres Ferdinandea after both the mythological figure Ceres (Roman goddess of plants and motherly love) and King Ferdinand III of Sicily (a.k.a. Ferdinand IV of Naples, a.k.a Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies). King Ferdinand was taking refuge in Palermo at the time, the Kingdom of Naples having been conquered by the French in 1798. The "Ferdinandea" part was not acceptable to other nations of the world and was dropped. Ceres was also called Hera for a short time in Germany.

The correct adjectival form of the name would be Cererian, although the nonce forms Cerian and Cerean are used in fiction.


Ceres was discovered by accident. Piazzi was searching for a star listed by Francis Wollaston as Mayer 87 because it was not in Mayer's zodiacal catalogue in the position given (it eventually transpired that Wollaston had made a mistake —the star was in fact Lacaille 87). Instead, Piazzi found a moving star-like object, which he thought at first was a comet.

Piazzi observed Ceres a total of 24 times, the final time on February 11, when illness interrupted. On 24 January 1801, Piazzi announced his discovery in letters to fellow astronomers, among them his fellow countryman, Barnaba Oriani of Milan. He reported it as a comet but "since its movement is so slow and rather uniform, it has occurred to me several times that it might be something better than a comet" [2]. By early February Ceres was lost as it receded behind the Sun. In April, Piazzi sent his complete observations to Oriani, Bode, and Lalande in Paris. They were shortly thereafter published in the September, 1801 issue of the Monatliche Correspondenz.

To recover the asteroid, Carl Friedrich Gauss, then only 24 years old, developed a method of orbit determination from three observations. In only a few weeks, he predicted the path of Ceres, and sent his results to Franz Xaver, Baron von Zach, the editor of the Monatliche Correspondenz. On December 31, 1801, von Zach and Heinrich W. M. Olbers unambiguously confirmed the recovery of Ceres.

Johann Elert Bode believed Ceres to be the "missing planet" that Johann Daniel Titius had calculated to exist between Mars and Jupiter, at a distance of 414 million km (257 million miles) from the Sun. Ceres was assigned a planetary symbol, and remained listed as a planet in astronomy books and tables (along with 2 Pallas, 3 Juno and 4 Vesta) for about half a century until further asteroids were discovered[3]. However, Ceres turned out to be disappointingly small, showing no discernible disc, and so Sir William Herschel coined the term "asteroid" ("star-like") to describe it.

Physical characteristics

File:Moon and Asteroids 1 to 10 at 10 km per px.png
Size comparison: the first 10 asteroids profiled against Earth's Moon. Ceres is at far left.

Ceres is the largest known asteroid in the traditional asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. However the Kuiper belt is known to contain larger objects, including Pluto, 50000 Quaoar, 90482 Orcus, the recently discovered Template:Mpl, and possibly 90377 Sedna.

Ceres is rare among asteroids in that its size and mass are sufficient to give it a nearly spherical shape, much like a planet. Other large asteroids such as 3 Juno and 4 Vesta are known to be distinctly non-spherical, although 10 Hygiea appears to also be spherical, and Vesta may have been spherical before being heavily cratered.

With a mass of 9.5 × 1020 kg, Ceres comprises about one-third of the 3.0 × 1021 kg estimated total mass of all the asteroids in the solar system (2) (which still only amounts to about 4% of the mass of the Moon).

File:1 ceres hst 2005.jpg
Model of Ceres based on Hubble Space Telescope images from 2003 and 2004.

There are some indications that the Cererian surface is relatively warm and that it may have a tenuous atmosphere and frost. The maximum temperature, when the Sun is overhead, has been estimated to be 235 K (about -38° C) (12). A more recent study led by Peter Thomas of Cornell University, suggests that Ceres has a differentiated interior: observations coupled with computer models suggest the presence of a rocky core overlain with an icy mantle. This mantle of thickness from 120 to 60 km could contain 200 million cubic kilometers of water, which is more than the amount of fresh water on the Earth[4] (10).

There has been some ambiguity regarding surface features on Ceres. Low resolution ultraviolet Hubble Space Telescope images taken in 1995 showed a dark spot on its surface which was nicknamed "Piazzi" in honour of the discoverer of Ceres. This was thought to be a crater. Later images with a higher resolution taken over a whole rotation with the Keck telescope using adaptive optics showed no sign of "Piazzi". However, two dark features were seen to move with the asteroid's rotation, one with a bright central region. These are presumably craters. More recent visible light Hubble Space Telescope images of a full rotation taken in 2003 and 2004 show an enigmatic white spot, the nature of which is currently unknown[5]. The dark albedo features seen with Keck are, however, not immediately recognizable in these images.

These last observations also determined that Ceres' north pole points (give or take about 5°) in the direction of right ascension 19 h 24 min, declination +59°, in the constellation Draco. This means that Ceres' axial tilt is very small (about 4±5°) (10).

File:Ceres Hubble.jpg
Hubble Space Telescope images of Ceres, taken in 2003/4 with a resolution of about 30 km. The nature of the bright spot is uncertain. A Movie was also made [1].
File:1 ceres.png
Hubble Space Telescope UV image of Ceres, taken in 1995 with a resolution of about 60 km. The "Piazzi" feature is the dark spot in the center.

Ceres is the main body of the Ceres family of asteroids.


Some notable observation milestones for Ceres include:

An occultation of a star by Ceres was observed in Mexico, Florida and across the Caribbean on November 13, 1984.

Features on Ceres' surface have been telescopically imaged several times in recent years.

These include:

Radar signals from spacecraft in orbit around Mars and/or on its surface have been used to estimate the mass of Ceres from the tiny perturbations induced by it onto the motion of Mars (2).

NASA has approved a mission called Dawn to visit Ceres. The scheduled launch date is set for June 2006, and after studying Vesta the probe will enter the orbit around the asteroid in August of 2015.


  • The chemical element Cerium (atomic number 58) was discovered in 1803 by Berzelius and Klaproth, working independently. Berzelius named the element after the asteroid.
  • William Hyde Wollaston discovered palladium as early as 1802 and at first called it Ceresium. By the time he openly published his discovery in 1805, the name was already taken (by Berzelius) and he switched it to palladium in honour of 2 Pallas.
  • In the animated television series Exosquad, Ceres was the place where a colossal long-range energy cannon built by Neosapiens to wipe out the Terran space fleet was stationed.


Stationary, retrograde Opposition Distance to
Earth (AU)
brightness (mag)
Stationary, prograde conjunction to Sun
March 21, 2005 May 8, 2005 1.68631 7.0 June 30, 2005 December 28, 2005
June 26, 2006 August 12, 2006 1.98278 7.6 November 27, 2006 March 22, 2007
September 20, 2007 November 9, 2007 1.83690 7.2 January 1, 2008 June 28, 2008
January 17, 2009 February 24, 2009 1.58526 6.9 April 16, 2009 October 31, 2009
April 28, 2010 June 18, 2010 1.81988 7.0 August 9, 2010 January 30, 2011
July 31, 2011 September 16, 2011 1.99211 7.7 November 12, 2011 April 26, 2012
October 30, 2012 December 17, 2012 1.68842 6.7 February 4, 2013 August 17, 2013
March 1, 2014 April 15, 2014 1.63294 7.0 June 7, 2014 December 10, 2014
June 6, 2015 July 25, 2015 1.94252 7.5 September 16, 2015 March 3, 2016
September 1, 2016 October 20, 2016 1.90844 7.4 December 15, 2016 June 5, 2017
December 21, 2017 January 31, 2018 1.59531 8.8 March 20, 2018 October 7, 2018
April 9, 2019 May 29, 2019 1.74756 7.0 July 20, 2019 January 14, 2020
July 13, 2020 August 28, 2020 1.99916 7.7 October 23, 2020 April 7, 2021

External link

Movie of one Cererian rotation (processed Hubble images)


  1. astronomy.com, movie credit J. Parker, Southwest Research Institute.
  2. E. V. Pitjeva, Estimations of Masses of the Largest Asteroids and the Main Asteroid Belt From Ranging to Planets, Mars Orbiters And Landers Solar System Resarch, Vol. 39 pp. 176 (2005).
  3. Supplemental IRAS Minor Planet Survey
  4. Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo, Giuseppe S. Vaiana
  5. detailed essay by J. L. Hilton
  6. Largest Asteroid Might Contain More Fresh Water than Earth September 7, 2005 Space.com
  7. Hubble Space Telescope news archive [2005-09-07].
  8. http://www.swri.org/press/ceres.htm
  9. http://s1.simpload.com/10034341d7edcf588.jpg
  10. P. C. Thomas et al Differentiation of the asteroid Ceres as revealed by its shape, Nature, Vol. 437, pp. 224 (2005).
  11. D. T. Britt et al Asteroid density, porosity, and structure, pp. 488 in Asteroids III, Univeristy of Arizona Press (2002).
  12. O. Saint-Pé Ceres surface properties by high-resolution imaging from earth, Icarus, vol. 105 pp. 271 (1993).
  13. J. W. Parker et al Analysis of the first disk-resolved images of Ceres from ultraviolet observations with the Hubble Space Telescope, The Astronomical Journal, Vol. 123 pp. 549 (2002).

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