1. This was the first asteroid to discover
Ceres was first noticed on January 1, 1801, by the Sicilian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi. The asteroid was found after Piazzi had carried out a mathematical prophecy (later determined to be false) that there should be a planet between Mars and Jupiter.
Initially, Ceres was called the planet, but when more asteroid belts were discovered, Ceres was relegated to the asteroid. His status changed again in 2006 when he was promoted to the dwarf planet – classification, which he shares with Pluto.
2. It was named in honor of the Roman goddess of agriculture
Piazzi called his discovery of Ceres after the Roman goddess of harvest and corn. Cerium is the most abundant of rare earth metals, as the encyclopedia says and (among other things) is the product of cleavage of plutonium, thorium, and uranium.
Other Ceres facts
3. Has mysterious bright spots
As Dawn raced toward the dwarf planet at the end of 2014 and early 2015, the Astronomers found two unexpected bright spots at about 19 degrees North latitude on Ceres, inside the crater. There seem to be no mounds or elements near these places, suggesting that they are not of volcanic origin.
Bright spots indicate a highly reflective material, probably water ice or salts – say the researchers. Members of the Dawn team hope that the spacecraft will solve the mystery.
4. Ceres may have a water vapor plume
Herschel’s astronomical observatory has recently noticed the water vapor emanating from Ceres.
The fumes could also sublimate when the meteorite hits the exposed subsurface ice into space.
5. Ceres can be a place of subsurface ocean
Geysers from water vapor would indicate the presence of the subsurface ocean on Ceres, which may be able to support life as we know it, say some scientists.
It is believed that the icy moons of the outer solar system, such as the Jovian Europa satellite and Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, have underground oceans that are apparently kept fluid by the tidal forces generated by the gravity of neighboring moons and their large host planets. Ceres would not have experienced such tidal forces but could keep radioactive heat from the elements inside him.
6. It’s round
Unlike other members of the asteroid belt, Ceres is round because it is large enough for gravity to form its shape into a sphere. (Ceres is about 590 miles or 950 kilometers wide). Scientists also believe that round bodies have different interiors, meaning that there are different zones inside. Ceres probably has a rocky core, an ice cloak, maybe some subsurface liquid water and a dusty top layer.
7. Can have an atmosphere
Ceres is relatively far away from the Sun, but scientists believe that its surface temperature can increase up to minus 37 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 38 degrees Celsius). If there is ice water on the surface, it will quickly sublimate – it will change directly to gas – which can create an atmosphere around the dwarf planet. That said, only a few sublimation observations so far. Dawn will be looking for something more.