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Spaceship Earth, Our Neighbours, "Ceres" the One You Never Heard Of

Updated on January 13, 2020
lawrence01 profile image

The universe is vast and wonderful. It can make us feel so small and insignificant, but it can also make us feel so special that we're here.

Meet the neighbour you probably never heard of.

Netxt stop after Mars isn't Jupiter, and it's where the corporate world wants us to go! the potential is enormous.
Netxt stop after Mars isn't Jupiter, and it's where the corporate world wants us to go! the potential is enormous. | Source

The Planets

For Astronomers, the last twenty years have been probably the most exciting and amazing in human history! They have also thrown up some of the most amazing and strangest discoveries that have left us thinking that our solar system might just be the strangest solar system that we know of, and we're just about to head off into the areas of it that make it unlike any we've found so far!

But for this hub, we're going to go back to the year 1801 and a controversy that broke out in 2006 when we started finding things in the outer solar system that Astronomers suspected were there but hadn't had proof of before. The discovery of objects we now call 'Dwarf Planets'

Ask any kid the name of the planets, and you'd probably get the names of most of the eight, but did you know that there are such things as 'Dwarf Planets'?

So far we know of at least four of them, but Astronomers suspect there might actually be hundreds of them, it's just we haven't found them yet!

Anyway, back to the story.

Back in Napoleon's time

Actually the mystery goes back a bit more than that, it goes right back to the time of Johannes Kepler and 1596!

See, by then Astronomers were starting to use their knowledge of Mathematics and celestial mechanics to work out where planets might be.

At the time, no planet beyond the orbit of Saturn had been discovered, but all those that they knew of seemed to follow a mathematical pattern, that is until you got to the distance between Mars and Jupiter!

Kepler noted that there was a gap where a planet should be, but otherwise, he was a bit busy making his own discoveries, things like his three laws of planetary motion and developing his own telescope.

Coming forward to the late eighteenth century and an Astronomer by the name of Johan Bode using a theory called the 'Titus-Bode law' (that simply said that each planet working outwards should be twice the distance from the sun as the previous. that has since been discredited proposed that there should be another planet between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and it should be about two hundred and fifty million miles from the sun.

William Herschel (1738-1822) had used the idea to predict how far out the planet Uranus should be, so the theory seemed to work at the time, and it indicated that there would be another planet between Mars and Jupiter.

But it was 1801 before it was found, and even then it was almost by accident.

A team of Astronomers were looking for the planet, but what they found at first was just a whole bunch of large rocks floating in space, none of which were big enough to pull themselves into spherical shape using their own gravity, but one of them realised that a few months before he might have discovered something like it, the sad part was that he didn't realise at first just what he'd found and by the time they did, it was too close to the position of the sun (actually on the other side of it, so the picture was blocked out) and they weren't sure where it would appear next.

Giuseppe Piazzi was a Catholic priest and Astronomer in Sicily working on the project, at first he thought that he'd found a comet and only really told a few other Astronomers about it, not really thinking too much about the discovery, but later in the year it became evident that what he'd discovered was more than a comet, however, he didn't know where in the sky it would be.

Piazzi sent his information to other Astronomers and it was Jérôme Lalande who worked out where it would next appear.



When is a planet not a planet?

Did you know that Pluto wasn't the first 'planet' to get a demotion? But Pluto's wasn't as brutal as Ceres' demotion!

From 1801 to about 1850 Ceres was regarded as a planet, but it was noted that there were a lot of Asteroids in the vicinity, the body hadn't cleared it's orbit of Asteroids!

There are three rules governing what we can call a planet

  1. It is in orbit around the sun
  2. The object is large enough that centrifugal force will create enough gravity for the body to pull itself into a spherical form.
  3. It has cleared 'the neighbourhood of its orbit.

Ceres hadn't done the third one, hence it could no longer be called a planet, but at the time we knew of no other body like it, so Ceres was demoted to the lowly category of being a huge asteroid, and it stayed in that category until 2006

2006 saw Astronomers address a situation that had been building for a few years, and that was the discovery of a whole series of celestial bodies that were big enough to have pulled themselves into spherical shape, they orbited the sun, but most of them are so far out they are well beyond the Orbit of Pluto and haven't cleared their neighbourhood of Asteroids!

That was when a new designation was created, that of the 'Dwarf Planet' and straight away six bodies were put into that category.

  1. Ceres, the closest to us
  2. Pluto the next, and not the biggest of these
  3. Eris is the biggest, and is 97 times the distance from the sun as the Earth is! It was discovered in 2005
  4. Haumea is just outside Pluto's orbit at 50 times the distance of the Earth to the sun. it was discovered in 2004
  5. Makemake is also just outside Pluto's orbit, at 52 times the distance of the Earth to the sun but at it's closest point it actually comes within Neptune's orbit.
  6. Sedna is the one that caused the problems, it was the one that forced the rethink. At a staggering 1,000 times the distance of the Earth to the sun it's the furthest celestial body we've yet seen, but Astronomers think there may actually be more bodies like it further out! Beyond Sedna is uncharted territory that Astronomers call the Oort cloud

Ceres, can it support life?

Can it support life?

That's pretty much the first question that scientists now ask themselves whenever they discover a new object in space. Can it either be supporting life now or once had life on it?

Ceres is interesting that way as some evidence of the presence of an internal 'ocean' seems to exist, it's possible that inside the body a large quantity of water may either still exist or once have existed (water, not ice!)

Organic compounds with a Carbon base have also been detected near the surface which could indicate the first building blocks towards organic chemistry, but that's still a long way from actual life.

Ceres probably never has had life on it, but it's a glimpse into what our solar system may have looked like when it first began to form.

For the first hundred years or so it was thought that Ceres was the remains of a planet that was torn apart by Jupiter's gravity and never really had the chance to form, but in 2006 a mission was launched that was to study the Asteroids (not just one but as many as the craft could visit) and the 'DAWN' spacecraft using a small Ion engine visited multiple Asteroids determining that Ceres wasn't originally from the Asteroid belt but seems to have been positioned there by Jupiter's gravity having come from much further out in the solar system.

Orion Spacecraft (Built by Boeing)

Blue Origin and what they're up to.

For the future

Man is planning to go to the stars. For some, it will be the adventure of a lifetime, and for others, they'll wonder what all the effort is for?

But we are going, and right now the first ships that take the first people to make Mars their permanent home are being built. SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and many others are building them with a dream, one of not just taking people to those planets to live, but of the potential rewards that come from mining the resources to be found out there.

For example, Platinum at $50 per gram (there are 200 grams in an ounce) can be mined from an Asteroid not far from earth that has five trillion dollars (US) worth of the stuff on one Asteroid!

By the way that's an Asteroid between Earth and Mars!

As our population here on Earth grows and we will soon need to look at what we are to do with the growing population, one solution that to me seems the best is to explore the stars and find the destiny that awaits us out there.


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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 months ago

      Thank you. When they demoted Pluto I saw a news story that mentioned another planet demotion. The problem with mining in space is the expense of retrieving it.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      11 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Mel

      The economic returns are incalculable as you say, and that's why a lot of today's 'tech billionaires' are quietly working away at getting us there, not just for the benefit of Humanity, but whoever gets there first will control the resources.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      11 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Denise

      I'm with you on that one, if only we could use our resources to explore and find ways around the issues facing us today instead of finding more ways to harm it would be wonderful.

      Ceres would be a huge challenge, but at the same time the rewards would be enormous not just for finding materials and resources, but it would open up the door to both exploring and colonizing the outer parts of our solar system.

      Interestingly enough I have seen videos where Elon Musk stated that the goal of his 'Starship' programme is to build a spacecraft that will not just reach Mars but will be able to reach as far out as Jupiter. There are at least a half dozen moons of Jupiter big enough to sustain a colony, and Europa is covered in Ice!

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      11 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      William

      Sorry I'm so late replying to you, I'm glad you enjoyed this hub and learned a little more from it.

      Ceres is a bit of an odd piece of 'real estate' because it was once regarded as a planet (like Pluto) but got demoted to being an Asteroid back in the 1930s.

      When the Astronomers met to discuss 'what is a planet' in 2006 Ceres actually got a 'promotion' as it met two of the criteria for being a planet, and became what's known as a 'Dwarf Planet', one of two in the Asteroid belt.

      One day I'll get back to writing more about the planets and introduce you to the other dwarf planet there.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      11 months ago from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado

      I've been one for exploring the solar system since I saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon at age 5. The thrill of the unknown is what excites me about it, but the economic returns are incalculable. Great work.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      13 months ago from Fresno CA

      The possibilities are endless. If only we can spend the money on exploration and invention to help people and create opportunities instead of some other things.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      15 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Hi, Lawrence. This is great, and you're right. I never heard of it before - but now I know. So I thank you, my friend, for another interesting and enjoyable read.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      John

      Thank you, I can't help it. I've always had a passion for finding out about these places, though ask me to name the stars and constellations and I'd be stumped with only about half a dozen of them!

      The planets though are amazing, especially as we now know that our solar system is so much bigger than we ever thought it was!

      Voyager 1 is now 12 billion miles from Earth and even though it was launched in 1979 it is still transmitting and sending data back to Earth and its not totally in interstellar space yet! (Still within what's known as the Oort cloud)

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Marc

      Thank you for the visit and for the input. I've heard about the planet you mention, I believe it's in the Proxima Centauri system just over four light-years from us.

      There's still a lot we don't know about planets outside our own solar system and that's why projects like 'Starshot' that was Championed by Stephen Hawking is so important, meanwhile, we have 'all these worlds' as Arthur C Clarke put it, and who knows what we're going to find.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      So true, asa species its a good thing that we are good at, and there aren't too many of them.

      Exploring oursolar system has also taught us a lot about our own Earth, our home, and what we need to do to look after it.

      Ceres is important to us because when man goes to explore the outer solar system he will need a base, and Ceres might just be the perfect place.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      15 months ago from Queensland Australia

      This was great, Lawrence. I learnt a lot of new stuff about dwarf planets. You make a good Astronomy teacher and always keep it interesting.

    • sparkster profile image

      Marc Hubs 

      15 months ago from United Kingdom

      I was familiar with half of what you've documented here but not so much the history, so thanks for that.

      These recent discoveries are really amazing with new planets being found quite regularly now, as the one earthlike planet found recently which is in the Goldilocks zone.

      There are now so many candidates for alien life including Europa, it's only a matter of time (although I personally believe we've already found it).

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      MsDora

      I hope I didn't give you too much of a headache!

      You're right about there being so much new information to take in, but it also reminds us how amazing the universe really is, and how precious life is.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Emge

      Thank you. That's what I was hoping for.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I know a lot of people who think the space program is a waste of money. I think man needs to explore...it is what we do as a species. There are many answers out there and it is our job to find them.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      15 months ago from The Caribbean

      Interesting facts about dwarf and demoted planets. New stuff to wrap our heads around!

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Linda

      Thank you, I enjoyed this one as it was a little bit different and showing some of the amazing things we've been finding out about our own cosmic neighbourhood.

      Glad you enjoyed it.

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh emge 

      15 months ago from Singapore

      A fascinating article that stimulates the mind

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      15 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence, all of these articles are fascinating, but I think this is your best one to date. Thanks for allowing me to be part of the journey.

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