Sept. 23, 2013

Ceres is a dwarf planet, the only one located in the inner reaches of the solar system; the rest lie at the outer edges, in the Kuiper Belt. While it is the smallest of the known dwarf planets, it is the largest object in the asteroid belt.

Unlike other rocky bodies in the asteroid belt, Ceres is an oblate spheroid, rounded with a rotational bulge around its equator. Scientists think Ceres may have an ocean and possibly an atmosphere. A probe will arrive in 2015 to study the object more closely and unlock those mysteries.

History & discovery

Astronomers in the late 18th century mathematically predicted the presence of a planet between Mars and Jupiter, eagerly turning their telescopes to the region in search of the missing body. On Jan. 1, 1801, Sicilian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi discovered what was then considered a planet, naming it Ceres for the Roman goddess of corn and harvests.

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