Space is a really big place. In fact, humans aren’t really well adapted to comprehending distances or sizes in space. Indeed, it’s not like deal with those sorts of things in our everyday lives! Still, getting an idea of things in the cosmos is interesting, especially when it’s all so close to the earth. Today, we will look at the largest asteroid ever recorded to see just how big it really is! Let’s get started.
The Largest Asteroid Ever Discovered
Before we get into the details of the largest asteroid, it’s important to note that the universe is huge. As such, humans can only see a small portion. Regarding asteroids, it is almost certain that larger asteroids are floating around out there that are larger. Also, it’s important to realize that asteroids are relatively small (at the cosmic scale), so almost all of the asteroids we have recorded are within our solar system.
With that in mind, let’s learn about asteroids. The largest asteroid ever discovered is an asteroid named Ceres. Humans have known of its existence for a very long time. Ceres is generally regarded as the largest asteroid in the main asteroid belt here in our solar system. It is around 1/3rd the size of our moon. For reference, the Moon has a radius of around 1,079 miles. Ceres, on the other hand, has a radius of around 360 miles. Again the math isn’t perfect as they aren’t the exact same shape. The equatorial middle of Ceres has a radius of 304 miles.
Since Ceres is so large, its total mass is around 1/3rd of the entire mass of the main asteroid belt portion. It is also denser than the Moon, with a mass of around 9.1 × 1020 kg, or 2/3rds of the Moon.
When Was Ceres Discovered?
Ceres was officially discovered in 1801, making it one of the earliest objects in space that humans discovered using telescopes. The Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi first saw Ceres on January 1st, 1801. He nearly lost it but was able to find it again on January 1st, 1802, with help from a German-Hungarian astronomer named Franz von Zach and the help of the German mathematician Carl Gauss. Ceres is named after the ancient Roman goddess Ceres. Ceres was the grain goddess and was the patron of the Italian city of Sicily.
Where is Ceres?
Ceres is located in the asteroid belt found within our own solar system and orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Strangely, Ceres is a sphere, making it a rare phenomenon as far as asteroids go. Due to its size and shape, Ceres is considered a dwarf planet like Pluto. Due to how far away Ceres is, it takes around 4.61 earth years for Ceres to make a full orbit around the Sun.
What is Ceres Made Of?
No probes have ever landed on Ceres, but it has been studied extensively. Current models estimate that Ceres has two layers, a rocky core with a very thick mantle of ice surrounding it. With all that ice, Ceres was also the first asteroid in the belt where water was first detected. The water can be seen gassing off when it moves close to the sun during certain parts of its orbit.
With space probes and telescopes, scientists have seen bright spots across the surface of Ceres where big salt deposits release salt, creating shiny dimples across the asteroid’s surface. The two brightest spots on Ceres are the Cerealia Facula and the Vinalia Faculae. These active, bright spots potentially mean that the water under the surface of the asteroid isn’t actually frozen and is percolating from underneath!
Could Ceres Hit Earth?
Although Ceres is extremely large, it isn’t something humans need to worry about. Ceres is in the asteroid belt and has been floating around roughly in the same spot for at least 4 billion years. If it wasn’t for Jupiter and its massive gravitational pull, it is possible that Ceres would have actually formed as a planet itself! Right now, it doesn’t look like Ceres is going anywhere, and it would take something incredibly drastic to put it on a course to hit Earth.
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Daniil Disa/Shutterstock.com
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