Let’s know a little about the first Asteroid discovered by our scientists back in 1801!
It is called Ceres (don’t confuse it with the ancient Roman goddess of Agriculture!) and it is the bulkiest and roundest object in the Main Asteroid Belt that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Ceres has a diameter of 940km. If you drive a car along the width of New York State from one end to another and back again, then you have roughly travelled a little more than the distance around Ceres.
This big round object in the Main Asteroid Belt was first discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi at Palermo Astronomical Observatory on 1 January 1801.Giuseppe Piazzi was an Italian astronomer and a professor of theology in Rome in 1779, and in 1780 he was appointed professor of higher mathematics at the Academy of Palermo. Later, with the support of the viceroy of Sicily, he founded the Observatory of Palermo.
Later scientific studies have revealed that the outer cover of Ceres is assumed to be muddy ice-rock. Below that; a crust that might be 60% rock and 40% ice. In January 2014, Ceres displayed something strange. It started to emit water vapor! Normally, it is only comets that emit water vapor like that. Asteroids never behave that way. The unexpected incident still remains as a mystery in space history.
Ceres was studied and photographed by NASA spacecraft ‘Dawn’ from 2015 to 2018. It was the first spacecraft that visited Ceres (and Vesta which is another large asteroid in the main asteroid belt) and as scheduled, ran out of fuel in 2018. Even as you are reading this, the ‘Dawn’ spacecraft, retired from service, is still in stable orbit around Ceres and is expected to remain so for the next two decades as a space monument for future space explorers. In the photographs taken by Dawn, there was a unique feature that puzzled the Scientists. At several places on Ceres, there were weird bright spots that looked like city lights seen from above during night time.
Picture above of spacecraft dawn
Although there is no evidence that Ceres has an internal ocean of liquid water, there is brine (or salty water) that flows through the outer mantle of Ceres and reaches its surface.
Eventual crystallization of this brine is guessed to be the reason behind the famous ‘bright spots’ seen on Ceres.
Kids Fun Facts Corner
#1. After Ceres, the biggest asteroid that moves in the Main Asteroid Belt is Vesta, named after Roman goddess of Health. Unlike Ceres, which is the roundest object in the main asteroid belt, Vesta is much more oblong in shape, like a rugby ball. Vesta is the brightest asteroid visible from earth.
#2. Ceres and Vesta contain nearly half the entire mass of the main asteroid belt. The Main Asteroid Belt is a cloud of space debris that exists in the shape of a rubber tube (like the ones you use during swimming) between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
#3. Bright spots on Ceres are called ‘faculae’. Brightest of them is seen in the Occator crater in Ceres and is called ‘Spot 5’.
#4. Another bizarre feature on Ceres is Ahuna Mons. It is the largest mountain on Ceres with glistening bright streaks that beautifully illuminates its slopes. At the base of Ahuna mons, there is a huge crater. The whole thing looks like a hurried excavation carried out in no man’s land with the dug out soil piled up carelessly nearby.
#5. NASA spacecraft ‘Dawn’ was manufactured by United Launch Alliance which is formed as a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space and Security. It was launched from Cape Canaveral on 27th September 2007.
Q. When was the first Asteroid (in the Main Asteroid Belt) was discovered?
Q. What is the biggest Asteroid (in the Main Asteroid Belt) after Ceres?
Q. What are the two unique features on Ceres that distinguishes it from many other Objects in the solar system?
Q. Who manufactured the NASA spacecraft ‘Dawn’?
Q. What was the observatory founded by Giuseppe Piazzi?
Download questions about Ceres here: Ceres (answers are on this page)
Teachers. For more in depth work sheets on Asteroids. Click on Kidskonnect. Worksheets
This articles was quest written by Chinthaka Nanayakkara @ Write Support. Write Support is an Organiser of Mini e-book Writing Projects.
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