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AstronomySolar system



Ceres is a dwarf planet located in the main belt of the solar system. Ceres is the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system, like Pluto, Makemake, Haumea and Eris, which however all belong to the outer solar system.
Ceres is also the only dwarf planet that does not belong to the plutoid category, and the first to have been visited by a space probe. Before 2006, with the introduction of the new classification system and the category of dwarf planets, Ceres was considered the asteroid with the highest mass in the main belt.

Astronomical Observation –
The astronomical observation of Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is of great interest to scientists and astronomers. Ceres was the first asteroid discovered and is also classified as a dwarf planet.
Ceres was discovered on January 1, 1801 by the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi.
Ceres is of great interest due to the presence of water. There is evidence that there is a saltwater ocean beneath its surface, and some of the bright spots observed are made up of hydrated salts. This makes Ceres a key object for studying the distribution of water in the solar system.
Ceres’ surface shows signs of complex geological processes, including craters, mountains, and possible cryovolcanoes. The Ahuna Mons mountain is particularly interesting, because it could be a cryovolcano, formed from a mixture of frozen water and salty materials.
Observations of Ceres are made using a variety of instruments and methods:
Terrestrial Telescopes: They allow remote observations to study its brightness and movement.
Space Telescopes: Such as the Hubble Space Telescope, which observed Ceres before the arrival of the Dawn probe.
Space Probes: Like the Dawn probe, which orbited Ceres, collecting detailed data.
The study of Ceres is fundamental to better understand the formation and evolution of the solar system. As a primitive body, Ceres offers us a window into the processes that were underway in the early days of the solar system. Furthermore, the possible presence of water beneath its surface makes it an interesting target for future missions seeking to understand the distribution and origin of water in space.

Physical characteristics –
Ceres is about 940 km in diameter and has a nearly spherical shape, which is unusual for asteroids, but common for dwarf planets due to their own gravitational field shaping them into this shape.
The mass of Ceres is approximately 9.39 × 1020 kilograms (kg). This estimate is based on observations of its orbit and the gravitational effects it exerts on other bodies in the asteroid belt. Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt and accounts for about a third of the belt’s total mass.
The density is approximately 2.16 g/cm³, suggesting a mixed composition of rocky and icy materials.
Ceres’ surface is predominantly composed of a mixture of water ice and hydrated minerals such as carbonates and clays.
Craters, mountains and other reliefs were detected. One of the best-known craters is Occator, which contains brilliant salt deposits.
Ceres has a tenuous exosphere, which is essentially a very thin atmosphere. It is mainly composed of water vapor, detected in trace quantities.
The origin of the water vapor is probably due to the process of sublimation of the ice present on the surface or below it.
The rotation period (Cererian day) is about 9 hours and the orbital period (Cererian year) is about 4.6 Earth years.
Its orbit is relatively inclined and elliptical compared to the plane of the ecliptic.
Ceres is differentiated into a rocky core and an ice mantle, with a mixed outer crust of ice and minerals.
The presence of cryovolcanoes suggests that there may still be ongoing geological activity.

Space missions –
The main space missions that have studied Ceres are the following:
Dawn (NASA). Launching on September 27, 2007 and arriving on Ceres on March 6, 2015.
The Dawn mission was designed to study two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt: Vesta and Ceres. After completing its mission to Vesta, Dawn entered orbit around Ceres to study its surface, composition and geology.
Through this mission, a series of mysterious bright spots were discovered within the Occator crater, later identified as deposits of salts (mainly sodium carbonate) that could be the result of recent geological activity.
A possible differentiated internal structure has been identified, with a rocky core and an icy mantle.
Organic materials have been detected on the surface, which could provide clues to the presence of conditions favorable to life in the past.
Currently, there are no other missions scheduled specifically for Ceres. However, Ceres remains an attractive target for future space exploration, given its unique composition and evidence of geological activity.
Ceres is considered a “protoplanet” and its study offers crucial information on the formation and evolution of the solar system. The analysis of Ceres could also provide clues to the possibility of liquid water and habitable conditions on other celestial bodies.
Scientific interest in Ceres suggests that new missions may be proposed in the coming decades. These could include:
Sample return missions: to collect surface samples and bring them to Earth for detailed analysis.
Lander or rover missions: To study the surface in more detail and investigate geological activity and the presence of water or ice beneath the surface.
Ceres, with its unique characteristics, continues to be a fascinating object of study to better understand the history and formation of our solar system.

Guido Bissanti

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