The solar system is believed to have a wide range of objects that serve specific functions in space. Asteroids are among the rocky and metallic objects that are constantly revolving around the sun. When analyzing the asteroids, they constitute materials left behind during the formation of the solar system (Dick, 2019). Various scientists have discovered different asteroids; however, one asteroid of concern is Ceres. Ceres is one of the objects that are found on the asteroid belt. Subsequently, the Ceres is believed to be one of the objects in space that its gravity can make it plastic and give it the ability to be maintained as a spheroid (Dick, 2019). Although ceres are much bigger than its rocky neighbors, most scientists have often classified t as an asteroid although it fits in the planets, thus the name dwarf planet in 2006 (Dick, 2019). Ceres is believed to be the first object in the asteroid belt to be discovered and is located between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres has unique features that are worth delving into. This essay, therefore, seeks to expound on the different aspects of ceres, including their discovery, observation, technology used to discover them, and the known and unknown aspects about them.
Discovery and Observation
Giuseppe Piazzi first discovered Ceres on January 1, 1801. During this fateful day, Piazzi was working on his tar catalog when he pointed his telescope in the sky and made an observation of a tiny star. Out of interest, Piazzi measured its position and waited to observe it the following night (Cunningham, 2016). At first, Piazzi thought it was a mistake; however, on January 4, he was convinced that he had discovered a new star, possibly a comet. After its discovery, it was first considered a plane but was later reclassified as an asteroid in the 1850s after several other objects in similar orbits were discovered. However, following subsequent studies, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) reclassified it into a dwarf planet.
The Ramsten Circle was used to discover Ceres on January 1, 1801. While working in the laboratory, Piazzi pointed out his telescope into the sky and observed the star. During this fateful day, Piazzi was trying to locate the 87th star that would fit in the catalog of the zodiacal stars; however, he found it to be another one. Instead of locating a star using the telescope, Piazzi observed a moving like a star which he believed was a comet (Cunningham, 2016). Piazzi also observed this “moving star for approximately 24 times, although he did not make any official statement apart from the letters he disclosed to his two fellow astronomers Barnaba Origin and Bode in Berlin. After an illness struck Piazzi, he was prevented from conducting additional observation about the object he had discovered. However, Franz von Zach recovered further observations of Ceres on January 2, 1802, by using an orbit calculated by Friedrich Gauss (Cunningham, 2016). It is through these observations that resulted in this object being named Ceres.
Technical Challenge associated with its discovery.
One of the main challenges associated with Ceres was calculating its orbit since it did not have a precedent to draw upon. One of the precedents that would have been used was Herschel’s discovery of Uranus in 1781. When discovering Uranus, the astronomers were able to observe its position during different nights and could document findings depending on their observations (Cunningham, 2016). When calculating its orbit, astronomers assumed that the orbit of the planet was circular and parabolic. However, in the case of Ceres, no person knew about the shape of its orbit; as a result, it could be easily assumed to be an eclipse that had an eccentricity ranging from 0 to 1. Based on the difficulties associated with discovering Cere’s obit, Gauss relied on his least-squares method in determining its orbit (Cunningham, 2016). However, he also differed his observations from contemporaries by avoiding assumptions of the eccentricity of initial orbits. As a result, Gauss applied methods resembling those used in the motion theory of the moon. Due to the subsequent astronomers’ challenges in establishing Cere’s orbit, Zach was among the individuals who largely criticized Piazzi for keeping his observation a secret for a long time (Cunningham, 2016). By keeping his observations a secret, he prevented other astronomers from conducting further observations and understanding the true nature of Ceres.
At the time of the discovery of ceres, there were no sophisticated technologies that could be used to make proper observations. However, Piazzi relied on the Ramsten Circle Telescope in observing ceres 24 times before illness cut him short. Ramsten Circle has different unique features that enable it to effectively make observations (McConnell, 2016). Despite this being the first instrument to be made by Rastemten, it is a vertical axis that constitutes of different parts firmly united together and a frame that constantly revolves around two pivots at the extreme ends. In the horizontal axis, the circle comprises three pieces, a central cylindrical hollow piece. Ramsden circle also has a plumb nine applied on the horizontal and vertical axis (McConnell, 2016). Based on these features, Piazzi could incorporate various adjustments when making his observations. On most occasions, Piazzi often adjusted the superior and inferior microscopes of the circle and made use of the zero points. By incorporating these strategies, Piazzi obtained accurate readings of the Ceres (McConnell, 2016).
When using the Ramsden circle, once the telescope has been brought close to the terrestrial object, the first adjustment that would be made would lead to the vertical axis lying perpendicularly in all directions. This can be achieved by using the plumb line or halving the error in the subjacent circular plates (McConnell, 2016). Using the Ramsden circle in making his observations, Piazzi noted that this telescope is associated with numerous advantages compared to its quadrantal predecessors. One of the first advantages relates to the fact that its graduated circles do not have verniers; as a result, it does not lead to defaced divisions or molesting of its steadiness (McConnell, 2016). The second advantage relates to the ability of the lens in the microscope to magnify up to nine times hence making it easy to appreciate even the smallest quantities that have been observed. Lastly, the circle’s ability to be clamped on a balustrade made it possible to give zenith distances hence making it easier to make observations on a single comet or phenomenon in space (McConnell, 2016).
What we know
Ceres is the only object that is located within the inner circles of the solar system. According to the existing literature, Gauss’s further observations indicated that Ceres primarily constituted of a mixture of water ice and suspended minerals, including clay and carbonates. Although Ceres is one of the smallest known dwarf planets, it is among the largest objects in the asteroid belt (Schröder et al., 2017).
Ceres has several known characteristics resembling those of the other eight planets in the solar system. When analyzing its size, ceres has a radius of 296 miles and is approximately 1/3 of the Earth. Since Ceres is also a revolving object around the solar system, it takes 1682 Earth days to make a complete rotation around the sun; its rotational axis is also tilted at 4 degrees with respect to its orbit around the sun (Schröder et al., 2017). Using these insights, it is clear that Ceres spins nearly upright and hence does not experience seasons like other planets. However, the existing studies indicate that ceres do not have any moons and rings.
Formation is another crucial aspect related to ceres formed together with the other solar system objects, which happened approximately 45 billion years ago. Its formation took place due to gravity pulling swirling gases and dust, forming small dwarf planets (Schröder et al., 2017). Most astronomers who have studied ceres describe it as an embryonic planet meaning that its formation started but did not finish taking place due to the strong gravity from Jupiter hence preventing it from becoming a fully developed planet. Since Ceres is also a planet, it adopts the structure of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, but it is much dense. Subsequently, ceres has a solid inner core and mantle comprising ice (Schröder et al., 2017).
The surface of ceres is also covered with numerous small and young craters that do not measure more than 175 miles in diameters. This is a surprising aspect since most dwarf planets have collided with other large asteroids throughout their lifetime. Ceres also lacks craters, an aspect that may have been attributed to the large layers of ice below its surface (Schröder et al., 2017). Additionally, since a lot of hydrothermal activities such as ice volcanoes were taking place during its early years of formations, it may have contributed to the erasing of some of the existing large craters (Schröder et al., 2017).
An additional unique aspect about ceres relates to its regions that are shadowed. The emergence of the shadowed regions is due to the axial tilt over time hence altering the position of ceres. Schorghofe et al. (2016) note that most of the shadowed regions constituting shallow craters are often colder than the shadowed craters that occupy craters with a smaller aspect ratio. Additionally, even if the existing cold traps are destroyed in Ceres, it would take approximately 100 Kyr for other new microns of water to accumulate, forming a thick layer (Schorghofe et al., 2016).
What we don’t know
One of the major unknown aspects regarding ceres relates to the recent revelations of it containing water. Water is an essential requirement to maintain life and support normal physiological functions. As a result, although ceres may look dry and greyish, chances are very high that it once held a liquid ocean in the past decades. When Dawn was conducting his observations, he used the Cere’s bulk in mapping the gravity it exerts. By combining the previous revelations of icy surfaces, findings indicate that Ceres had traces of an ocean in the crust and a muddy mantle in the surface. Most scientists have conducted studies and come up with findings that ceres has a density of approximately 2.09 grams per cubic meter. As a result, findings conclude that approximately ¼ of its weight is water. When comparing Earth to Ceres, it has a density of 5.52 grams per cubic centimeters. As a result, this suggests that Ceres would give more water than Earth, which can probably support the survival of human beings and non-human living things.
One of the interesting features about Ceres is that during a study conducted by the European Space Agency of Herschel Space Observatory, it was noted that Ceres had plumes of water vapor escaping at a rate of 13lbs (Dick, 2019). With the continued growth of patches of ice and minerals related to liquid water, Ceres seems to be a potential planet that can support life.
Using this information, most studies are currently focusing on searching for possible signs of life; until then, the topic remains a mystery to most scientists.
Ceres is one of the smallest dwarf planets but the largest object on the asteroid belt. It is located between mass and Jupiter and has unique attributes that other planets within the solar system do not have. Although Piazzi initially discovered it in 1801, further observations were cut short when Piazzi died. However, with the current revelations concerning the presence of water, further studies need to be conducted to establish if it can support the growth of plants and humans. Additionally, further studies need to be undertaken to devise a way of reversing the permanently shadowed regions that are extremely cold. This can be a building stone towards making future discoveries.
- Cunningham, C. (2016). Early Investigations of Ceres and the Discovery of Pallas: Historical Studies in Asteroid Research. Springer. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-319-28815-4
- Dick, S. J. (2019). The Sub planetary Family. In Classifying the Cosmos(pp. 59-85). Springer, Cham. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-10380-4_4
- McConnell, A. (2016). Jesse Ramsden (1735–1800): London’s leading scientific instrument maker. Routledge. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/mono/10.4324/9781315251547/jesse-ramsden-1735%E2%80%931800-anita-mcconnell
- Schorghofer, N., Mazarico, E., Platz, T., Preusker, F., Schröder, S. E., Raymond, C. A., & Russell, C. T. (2016). The permanently shadowed regions of dwarf planet Ceres. Geophysical Research Letters, 43(13), 6783-6789. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2016GL069368.
- Schröder, S. E., Mottola, S., Carsenty, U., Ciarniello, M., Jaumann, R., Li, J. Y. … & Russell, C. T. (2017). Resolved spectrophotometric properties of the Ceres surface from Dawn Framing Camera images. Icarus, 288, 201-225. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S001910351630731X