Did you know there’s a world floating in the vastness of space that’s almost as wide as the state of Texas? This world is called Ceres, a dwarf planet that sits comfortably in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Ceres is not as big as our home planet, Earth, but it’s not tiny either. It’s about 590 miles (950 kilometers) in diameter. To give you a better idea of its size, imagine this:
Ceres was the first asteroid ever discovered, way back on January 1, 1801. But it’s not just any asteroid; in fact, it’s known as a dwarf planet. It’s the only one of its kind that orbits the Sun within the path of Neptune. The surface of Ceres is a mixture of water ice and minerals. Below the surface, it’s believed to have a core of ice and rock. Although Ceres doesn’t have oceans like Earth, scientists think that salty water, or brine, flows through its mantle and reaches the surface. This process forms cryovolcanoes – volcanoes that erupt water, ammonia or methane, instead of molten rock. In 2014, scientists detected emissions of water vapour around Ceres, creating a thin, temporary atmosphere known as an exosphere. This was a surprise because usually only comets, not asteroids, have vapour emissions.
In 2015, the NASA spacecraft Dawn got up close and personal with Ceres. The Dawn mission has helped scientists learn more about this intriguing dwarf planet. Even with our most powerful telescopes, many of Ceres’ surface features are hard to see from Earth. But thanks to Dawn, we’ve been able to get a better look. Here are some cool things that Dawn discovered about Ceres:
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